WIESBADEN, Germany — They are hostages no longer. They are "returnees."

In another place, at another time, it might have seemed State Department officials were merely playing semantic games. But when Jack Cannon, deputy spokesman for the department, talked to newsmen shortly after the hostages arrived here Wednesday, he opened his remarks with a brief statement on the word.

"Today we attempt to bury the awful word 'hostages.' Like most Americans this spokesman will attempt to erase the term 'hostages' from their vocabulary."

It may not be easy. Cannon wasn't specific about the treatment the 52 Americans received, or their present conditions. However, there were hints.

Cannon gave an example from the airport gathering in Tehran just before the flight to freedom: "It was, we are told, the first time, as hostages, they had ever, in the entire time they were incarcerated, been together."

Unequal treatment

There were indications the hostages weren't treated equally. Asked how much notice of their pending release they were given, Cannon said, "I don't really know that information, but I believe there was some indication that some of the people had very little notice at all — perhaps 15 or 20 minutes — and others had several days."

There were positive notes in the press conference as well. Asked about the ex-hostages' health, Cannon replied, "We viewed them as being in relatively good spirits, but," he added, "any attempt by us, at this point, to judge their medical condition is entirely premature."

None of the 52 needed immediate medical care from the doctors and nurses aboard the two "flying hospitals" dispatched to Algiers to pick them up.

On board the aircraft, "they were very interested, I'm told, in what's going on in the world.

When they left Algiers, "they got together and talked together. They were very interested in sharing the experiences they had had. Their interest in things concerning the outside world was superabundant. "

They shared the emotion of the moment, he said. "When the Algerian aircraft left Tehran and became airborne, apparently everyone loosened their seatbelts and immediately rapped with each other in a great communal get-together."

Race to phones

After arriving at the hospital, the hostages quickly made their way to the bank of phones to call loved ones, Cannon said.

"They pretty much checked in, gave some very preliminary hospital information, made telephone calls and I understand most of them have gone to bed. I think their first interest was very, very much the telephones."

The hostages will not meet the press unless they ask to do so, Cannon said. They will spend their days having medical checkups and talking with doctors and government officials. "In addition to the medical briefing and medical examination, which will be most thorough, a number of agencies of the government will have discussions with them. There is a State Department team here, roughly totaling 30 persons."

The State Department has discouraged families from visiting the hostages in Germany and Cannon said Wednesday, "We have no information that any of the hostages' families are coming to Wiesbaden."

However, the wife of one hostage, Sgt. 1.C. Donald Hohman, visited him Wednesday. She lives in the Frankfurt area. Hohman was stationed at the Army's 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt before going to Iran.

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