The Yellow Ribbon Mission
In 1979, when Iran took her husband hostage along with 51 other American Diplomats, Penne Laingen, “tied a yellow ribbon round her oak tree”…in front of her home in Bethesda, MD. She was inspired for many reasons to do this, one of which was the song “Tie a yellow ribbon ’round ol’ Oak tree” by Tony Orlando. This inspired NGL to have yellow ribbon pins made with the words “Free the Hostages” during the Hostage Crisis.
On November 4, 1979, protesters took over the American Embassy in Iran. For 444 days, the plight of 52 American hostages was a daily news story.
On the day of Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration, January 20, 1981, the hostages were released.
The highest ranking hostage, Ambassador Bruce Laingen shared his feelings upon returning to the U.S. and the reception he received, said: “I can only remember the joy of it, the relief of it, the incredible embrace of affection we had from every American” shown by the wearing of a yellow ribbon.
The hostage families met and formed an association – the Family Liaison Action Group (FLAG) which quickly found allies among existing humanitarian organizations, most notably No Greater Love.
No Greater Love formed their strategy around Emerson’s maxim that “A good symbol is the best argument, and is a missionary to persuade thousands.” The symbol they chose for their argument was the yellow ribbon. With the generosity from AFL-CIO Unions – Firefighters, Iron Workers, Sheet Metal Workers, and the Painters International Unions, No Greater Love distributed ten thousand yellow ribbon pins. These went to the hostage families, the union members, college students, and in a stroke of marketing genius, to TV weathercasters. It has been noted that the wearing of the yellow pin started the wearing of a ribbon for a cause in the country.
Excerpt from Gerald E. Parsons, American Folk Life Center, Smithsonian Institution