Jubilant hostages thank America


WIESBADEN, West Germany, Jan. 21, 1981 (UPI) -- Fifty-two Americans arrived today to the cheers of delirious countrymen waving the Stars and Stripes.

Jimmy Carter, as a special envoy for President Reagan, left for Wiesbaden this morning.


"Welcome home!" shouted the crowd of 2,000 at the giant U.S. Rhein-Main air base. "God bless you."

"We didn't forget you," said one banner in greeting for the Americans liberated after 444 days in captivity. Another sign draped on the airport arrivals' building summed it up with a playing card term: "Full Deck-52."

And still another proclaimed: "Welcome Home to Freedom."

"It's absolutely fantastic," one of the released hostages said as he got off the plane in West Germany. "Much better than the past 15 months."

"God bless America," another hostage shouted in the previous stop in Algeria.

Kathryn Koob, 43, one of the two women held by Iranian militants after their takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran Nov. 4, 1979, said she would never forget the Americans who reached out to the hostages during the agonizing days and months.

"One thing I'd like to say right now," she said, her voice breaking, "is, you can never imagine how much the letters and prayers and support meant to me.


"We weren't able to write or communicate with you. Only the Lord knows how much it helped. Thank you from the bottom of my heart."

The hostages, now officially designated "returnees," spent their first night of freedom in Wiesbaden Air Force Hospital, about 25 miles from the Rhein-Main base. At the facility, they talked to their relatives by phone.

Outside the hospital, an American junior high school band tootled "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" but no one could hear it in the din of shouts, whistles and cries of "Welcome home" and "God bless you."

Twelve hours and nine minutes earlier, the two women and 50 male hostages flew out of Iran to the taunts of Islamic Revolutionary Guards, who chanted, "Down with America" and "Down with Reagan."

Their flight to freedom spanned 4,055 miles and touched three continents. The first stop was at Athens for refueling. But even there, the freed hostages were not in the custody of U.S. officials.

In Algiers -- fittingly the capital of the go-between broker Algeria, which made the hostage release possible -- the Americans were formally transferred into U.S. hands.

"I am delivering your citizens to you," Algerian Foreign Minister Mohammed Benyahia told Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher.


Then it was on to Rhein-Main, the giant military facility at Wiesbaden -- transformed for the occasion by the wives and children of servicemen into a garden of yellow ribbons.

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