Former Iran hostage, Marine veteran Billy Gallegos is honored for FBI service
By JON POMPIA | The Pueblo Chieftain, Colo. | Published: April 20, 2019
PUEBLO, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — He spent 444 days captive to terrorists and a good portion of his career hunting those who spread terror throughout the world.
And for his service to the Federal Bureau of Investigation via the Denver Police Department, Pueblo's own William "Billy" Gallegos was honored with the Denver Police Foundation's inaugural Chairman's Legacy Award on Thursday.
The award recognizes Gallegos' "special and lifelong legacy of leadership, service and demonstrated excellence."
Gallegos, who came to the world's attention in 1979 when militants overtook the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, retired from the Denver Police Department as a detective in November after working on an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force for nearly a decade and a half.
While serving as a Marine Corps guard at the U.S. Embassy, Gallegos, then 21, was one of 52 Americans taken hostage by college students belonging to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam's Line, who supported the Iranian Revolution.
The only hostage allowed to do a live television interview with NBC — he was told exactly what to say, however — Gallegos suffered at the hands of his captors and was kept in inhumane conditions. After returning home to Pueblo in 1981, he was given a hero's welcome. It was in 1994 that he joined the Denver Police Department.
"In keeping with his character, Billy demonstrated incredible leadership, integrity and perseverance in the most difficult of circumstances, despite personal injury and significant trauma," notes a foundation news release. "Upon completion of his military service, Billy continued his commitment to public service by joining the Denver Police Department. Through determination and hard work, Billy climbed the ranks within the department.
"His experience and expertise made him a rare individual within the law enforcement community. As a result, Detective Gallegos was frequently sought after for professional advice from seasoned investigators and agents from federal agencies, lending his expertise to various municipalities and agencies for the betterment of society."
In conjunction with the foundation award, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed a proclamation heralding April 18 as "Detective William 'Billy' Gallegos Day."
Gallegos has, for the most part, shunned the media spotlight. He did, however, speak to NBC on the 25th anniversary of the hostage crisis, saying he had no idea that he and the others would be taken hostage.
"I thought we'd be able to fight them off. It didn't seem to work out that way," he said. "I think it would have been worse had we shot that day. I think, if we had done that and the Marines started shooting the people that are coming over the fences or in through the doors, we possibly would have all been killed at that time."
In 2015, the 37 surviving Iranian hostages each received up to $4.4 million in compensation for their captivity, with the funding coming from a $9 billion penalty paid by the French bank BNP Paribas for violating sanctions against countries that include Iran.
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