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From Iran Hostage to Independence: One Amazing Story

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One of the most powerful drivers that motivates FSI’s independent financial advisor members in their efforts to help Main Street American investors every day is the desire to give back to their communities and the people who have supported them throughout their lives. Each advisor has his or her own unique story about the important influences that shaped this desire to serve. As we seek to help advisors draw inspiration and insight from their peers, we are very pleased—and deeply humbled—to present one such story. 

Before starting his independent financial advisory practice, Hermening Financial Group, in Wausau, Wisc., in 1989, Kevin Hermening served his country with pride as a United States Marine sergeant stationed at the American Embassy in Tehran. On Nov. 4, 1979, when Hermening was just 20 years old, Iranian students and other militants demanding the deportation of the Shah of Iran from the United States, where he was receiving treatment for cancer, attacked the embassy and its personnel. What followed was the Iranian hostage crisis, an event whose repercussions in the Middle East and in nearly every aspect of American foreign policy are still being felt today. 

For 444 days, Hermening and 51 other Americans were held captive, with virtually no interaction with the outside world. Many of the hostages suffered extreme physical abuse and repeated interrogations. Hermening himself was locked in solitary confinement for over six weeks after a failed escape attempt in January 1980. “The only time I ever got out of that room in 43 days was to use the bathroom once a day—depending on their [his captors’] schedule—and to take three showers in the entire six weeks and one day that I was in solitary confinement,” he says.

Even today, Hermening remembers every aspect of the ordeal in vivid detail, and still speaks with awe of the strength his compatriots showed throughout the course of their imprisonment. 

“My treatment was tame compared to the way they treated Col. Charles Scott,” he says, referring to U.S. Army Col. Scott, another hostage. “He was beaten so severely during the course of his interrogation that he had three of his teeth broken off right at the gum line, the roots of which remained embedded up in his gums. He developed intense infections and became very ill, but he never begged for help.”

Hermening expresses particular gratitude toward one of his fellow Americans who, by rights, should never have been involved in the crisis at all. Bill Keough was a principal and administrator for an international education agency who traveled to Tehran for what he expected would be a couple of days to gather some student transcripts and other documents. When he went to the embassy to let them know he was in the country, however, he turned around to see the militants streaming through the doors. Keough’s brief trip to Iran ended up turning into over a year of captivity. 

Rather than withdrawing into self-pity, Keough made it his mission to encourage Hermening and others to stay focused on the lives they would build once they were freed. “Bill treated me like a son during those six months that we were in that prison cell together,” says Hermening. “He always said to me, ‘Kevin, if we ever get out of here, you have to go on and complete your education.’” 

A 6’ 9”, 350-pound mountain of a man at the beginning of the crisis, Keough endured such mistreatment during his imprisonment that he weighed only 150 pounds by the time he was freed. Still, he remained an optimist throughout, and continually sought ways to help his fellow captives. “I owe a lot to Bill,” says Hermening.

Hermening is also deeply grateful for the sacrifices that other servicemen and women made for him and his fellow hostages even though, in some cases, he never had the chance to meet them. 

He speaks with reverence of the three Marines and five Air Force service members who were killed on April 25, 1980, as part of the failed rescue mission to recover the American captives. “Every single time I have the privilege to go somewhere and speak, I talk about the eight men who lost their lives that night,” he says. “These men represent the absolute best of what America is all about: the willingness to give one’s life for their fellow countrymen—people they don’t even know—in service to their country. It’s my job to honor them.”

As a financial advisor, Hermening’s work with clients and involvement in his community has been profoundly influenced by his experience in Iran. After being freed in January 1981, he returned to his home state of Wisconsin, where he has volunteered his time as a teacher of Junior Achievement classes for 27 years. He is also an active speaker on leadership and the meaning of liberty.

“Every time I speak about my experience overseas, I begin by thanking people for not forgetting me and my fellow hostages while we were imprisoned in the Middle East,” he says. He notes that the guiding principles he and his employees follow at Hermening Financial Group—live with passion, work with commitment, and give generously—also evolved from his difficult experience in Iran. 

Hermening is also involved deeply with FSI, in particular, with his service on the Financial Advisor Council. 

FSI is honored to work with financial advisors such as Kevin Hermening and many others whose profound commitment to giving back to their communities forms the core of their businesses and their lives. We thank all of our members for their service and engagement, and we look forward to working with them in the years ahead to ensure that Main Street Americans have the guidance they need to pursue their dreams. 

(Kevin Hermening is the owner of Hermening Financial Group and offers securities through First Allied Securities (Member, FINRA / SIPC).

View ThinkAdvisor’s ongoing series of articles Honoring Advisors Who Served.


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