Obituary : Col. Charles Beckwith; Led Failed Iran Raid

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Retired Army Col. Charles Beckwith, the founding commander of the Army’s Delta Force and leader of its ill-fated mission to rescue 52 American hostages in Iran in 1980, died Monday. He was 65.

His wife, Katherine, called police after finding him dead in his bedroom. Police said he apparently died of natural causes.

Beckwith was envied by friends for staying fit through a grueling 30-year military career that included service with the Green Berets in Vietnam and commanding the top-secret anti-terrorist Delta Force.


Beckwith retired from the military in 1981 after the botched raid and ran a private security company in Austin, serving as a consultant.

In 1980, President Carter turned to Delta Force to rescue American hostages imprisoned in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The mission, code-named Eagle Claw, was aborted April 24, 1980, after eight U.S. servicemen died in a pre-dawn crash of a Marine helicopter and a C-130 airplane in the Iranian desert about 200 miles southwest of Tehran.

Investigators concluded that the Army, Air Force and Marine personnel had not trained together before being selected for the mission and that the operation lacked a clear chain of command.

Beckwith said the mission was doomed by too much internal bickering among bureaucrats who did not have enough experience with high-risk missions.

“I do regret not putting my foot down more often,” he said in 1982.

But when asked if he objected to history’s portrayal of him as the leader of a calamitous mission, Beckwith replied with characteristic bluntness: “It’s the damn truth.”

Known as a tough, dedicated daredevil, Beckwith was sometimes called “Chargin’ Charlie.”

Beckwith, raised by a brother and his mother after his father died, was a high school football star. He was a student leader and star athlete at the University of Georgia and in 1952 was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. But he took a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commission in the Army, and quickly decided on a military career.