From the Stars and Stripes archives

Thousands cheer hostages in emotional return to freedom

Freed hostages acknowledge the cheers of the crowd as they arrive at Rhein-Main.


By BILL WALKER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 22, 1981

WIESBADEN, Germany (S&S) — Fifty-two Americans, spending their first day in freedom after a 14½-month ordeal of captivity in Iran, were paid a visit by former President Jimmy Carter Wednesday night.

Carter met with the former hostages at . the U.S. Air Force hospital here, minutes after his plane flew into Rhein-Main AB, 25 miles away, at 8:30 p.m.

Carter left the hospital after his meeting with the group, returning to Rhein-Main for a flight back to the States on Air Force One. He came to Germany as a representative of President Reagan.

Carter's visit came as details of the hostages' mistreatment by the Iranian revolutionaries began to emerge. Some. of the former hostages, calling home free on phones provided by the U.S. government, told friends and families about mental and physical abuse by their Iranian guards.

Early Wednesday evening, State Department spokesman Jack Cannon confirmed that "serious mistreatment" had taken place.

He said, "The medical team at the Wiesbaden hospital conducted preliminary conversations throughout the day with the 52."

Cannon said "throughout their ordeal we repeatedly stated that the human rights of our citizens were being grossly violated. Now, on the basis of what we have learned so far, we have further evidence of serious mistreatment in a number of cases during the period of their captivity."

He said the State Department wanted to stress that this evaluation of the former hostages' experiences is preliminary and no comprehensive judgments can be made yet.

"As we have said, medical examinations and conversations will continue and we will have no further comment at this time, although we expect to report on the facts as they emerge," Cannon said.

The hostages arrived in Germany before dawn Wednesday amid the cheers of thousands who had gathered at Rhein-Main AB.

They stepped off two C-9 Nightingale jets and boarded buses for the trip to the Air Force hospital. Ahead of them were several days of what medical authorities called " psychological decompression."

The former hostages, accompanied by members of a Department of Defense medical team put together to aid them in readjusting after 444 days in Iranian hands, moved into their hospital quarters shortly after 8 Wednesday morning.

Twelve hours earlier, they had been captives, awaiting departure from Tehran's Mehrabad Airport and enduring the final taunts of "Death to America" from Moslem revolutionaries.

Flags, ribbons

At Rhein-Main and the hospital in Wiesbaden, American flags of all sizes dotted the crowds. Everywhere yellow ribbons, symbolic of America's resolve not to forget the captives, were tied to trees, railings and equipment. One yellow banner encircled the massive control tower on the flight line at Rhein-Main.

Tuesday had dawned with the fate of the hostages still in doubt. But Tuesday evening, 25 minutes after Carter left office, the two Air Algeria 727 jets carrying the former hostages lifted off the runway at Mehrabad.

Both craft refueled in Athens and flew to Algiers, arriving after midnight. They flew out on the C-9 planes after a reception telecast live from the airport visitors' lounge. Two hours and 36 minutes later the two C-9s touched down at Rhein-Main, setting off celebrations in military communities in Europe and throughout the States.

In Wiesbaden, church bells pealed Wednesday morning to honor the 52.

State Department spokesmen indicated the group would stay in Wiesbaden at least two to three days.

Families had been discouraged from coming to Wiesbaden so the group would have an opportunity to adjust before being reunited with their loved ones.

Emotions had built Tuesday night at Rhein-Main where the tower loudspeakers cut in periodically with stateside commentators broadcasting directly from the tarmac. In the final two hours as the C-9s winged ever closer to Rhein-Main, the hundreds on hand cheered with each notice of progress of the planes.

The two planes touched down within a minute of each other at approximately 6:45 a.m. to the cheers of the crowd. More than 500 journalists from all over the world watched.

As the door opened on the first C-9, the crowd saw a sign taped inside the door saying, "Welcome Back to Freedom." A delegation led by former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Walter Stoessel greeted each released hostage.

The senior diplomat in the Tehran Embassy, Bruce Laingen, was first down the steps.

Most of the former hostages wore or carried Air Force parkas with yellow ribbons tied to the front pockets.

Some raised their hands in acknowledgement of the cheering and a few seemed surprised at the size of the greeting and the intensity of television lights. After passing through the receiving line they were escorted to buses for the trip to Wiesbaden.

Members of the welcoming delegation shook hands with every former hostage on the first plane and then moved to the second plane as it came to a stop.

At one point Laingen and another former hostage, Elizabeth Swift, appeared to try to approach the crowd. But security officials politely escorted them onto their bus.

It took nearly 20 minutes to load the 52, plus their escorts, onto buses. The buses were escorted by a tight formation of German and American security vehicles for the 25-mile drive to Wiesbaden.

The Tehran-Athens-Algiers-Rhein-Main trip for the hostages totaled. about 4,500 miles.

In Tehran Wednesday, the Associated Press quoted Iran's chief hostage negotiator, Behzad Nabavi, as saying the U.S. Embassy in Tehran would remain in Iranian hands because Iran would not have political or economic relations with the United States in the future.

"For the first time in history we have made a superpower like the United States confess to its interference in another country's affairs," Nabavi said.

"We have broken the myth of this superpower, which claimed to respect international rules and human rights."

The medical crew director on one C-9, Nurse (Capt.) Gretchen Malaski, said the former hostages were elated when they got on board in Algiers. Malaski, interviewed on the ABC-TV show, "Good Morning America," said, "They were elated. We had a couple of Marines who ate two or three meals. Very few of them sat still during the entire flight. They were up and talking with each other, talking with the crew."

Malaski said that Col. Thomas Schaeffer, the ranking military hostage, was moved by the reception at Rhein-Main.

"He could see all the people waving flags, cheering, with their yellow ribbons,' she said. She said Schaeffer had boarded a bus but "he saw they were still cheering and he actually got off the bus and threw his arms around several people and said he loved them all."

Schaeffer's wife, Anita, told interviewers her husband telephoned Wednesday.

"It was rather emotional," she said. "He was totally overwhelmed about what's happening. They had no idea about the support of the country."

She said she was "sustained during the 14-month ordeal by the tremendous strength from my husband, but, more importantly, by the Air Force. It's a wonderful organization. They have been absolutely tremendous."

Another C-9 crew member, T.Sgt. Jerald Duffman, told interviewers that many of the released hostages wanted to, see news magazines to find out what was going on in the world.

That's how they found out that Richard Queen, who had been held hostage, was released in July 1980 because of illness, Duffman told the television interviewer.

When Carter arrived at Rhein-Main aboard Air Force One Wednesday night he was greeted by West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and a crowd of cheering Americans.

The crowd began chanting, "We want Jimmy," as the former president appeared in the door of the blue-streaked Boeing 707 which had carried him around the world during the four years of his administration.

Former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie, former Treasury Secretary G. William Miller and former presidential counsel Lloyd Cutler accompanied the president to Germany.

As Carter and Schmidt walked toward the motorcade that was to carry Carter to Wiesbaden, the former president stepped away from his Secret Service protection and climbed atop a security car to wave to the crowd.

The crowd, estimated at 3,000, waved. American flags and signs that read, "Welcome Jimmy, you're still number one with us," and "We still love you, Mr. Carter."

After Carter left for Wiesbaden, Schmidt told reporters that he and the German people "express our feeling of joy that the hostages are now free."

"Speaking on behalf of the German nation,' Schmidt said, "we express our congratulations to the hostages and their families."

Former President Jimmy Carter waves to the crowd after arriving at Rhein-Main to welcome the freed hostages.

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