A Simple Instinct to Survive: The humble beginning of Iran/Contra

My research for the Indelible media project has recently brought me closer to historical events which have provided valuable new insights regarding being a human in the setting of war. I thought I would share a few things I learned.

I have been working on sources for the mercenary work in Guatemala and Vietnam, by the “kids” in the Indelible story. This led me to a man named Eugene Hasenfus. Many of you may be familiar with him from the Iran/Contra story. I was not.

Hasenfus was a former marine, who had served in Vietnam between the years 1960 and 1965, reaching the rank of corporal. His younger brother, Bill, stated that he was a “loadmaster”, which apparently is preparing loads to be dropped out of a plane. Both Bill and Gene (Eugene), were ardent sky divers.

Gene had also worked for Air America in Southeast Asia as a loadmaster for eight years, in the sixties and early seventies. Air America carried out CIA operations.

In the eighties, Gene had a family and needed more money. When a friend from the Air America days called him to see if he wanted to work as a loadmaster for flights into Nicaragua, he agreed, thinking it would be similar to his earlier work with Air America in Southeast Asia.

In 1984, congress had passed a law that forbid any US effort to support the Contras in Nicaragua. But in 1986, the flights still continued—although illegal—manned by Gene and his colleagues and overseen by the CIA. On one flight, on October 5, 1986, their plane was shot by a missile from the ground as they flew over Nicaragua. The plane spun out of control and all aboard were killed. All accept Gene.

The downing of the CIA plane, was bad news politically for the US, because of their 1984 law. Immediately senators, congressmen and military leaders, as well as the White House, began filtering out news stories saying this plane was a group of private individuals and had nothing to do with the US government. But this was false. It was a CIA Operation. And they knew it.

When Gene was caught by the Nicaraguan military a few days later, they had a huge problem. What happened? How could this have all gone so wrong?

Hidden amongst all the articles about Gene, was one that explained what happened. It had to do with Gene looking out for his own safety rather than just taking orders from the CIA. He had his brother’s parachute with him. And at the right time, he jumped out of the plane and safely landed. Had he not done this, but instead died like the others on the plane, there would never have been an Iran/Contra Affair.

What Came to mind for me, perhaps because I know nothing about parachuting, is it seems if the engine was shot by the missile, how did Gene have the presence of mind or time to put on a parachute and jump out safely?

Since Gene’s effort, in 1986, he has lost everything and has been continually disgraced, publicly. I don’t think this is merely the weakness of Gene. Gene did not seem like a weak or foolish man, prior to this incident.

Here’s a quote from the article from Politico.com:


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