For William F. Niehous, this July 4th will be an unsual holiday. He's just gotten out of the jungles of Venezuela where he was held against his will for 3 1/2 years by a group of Marxist guerrillas. Now he has returned gratefully to the shopping malls and suburia of Toledo, U.S.A., and here's what he said he missed most, aside from hamburgers:
"i think probably the thing I missed most was my personal freedoms, my liberty, friendship, contact with other people. Just the things that most of us accept as normal ways of life."
Niehous was rescued last Friday. The 47-year-old Owens-Illinois executive is a true product of the American middle class, a man his wife once discribed as someone who would "make Barry Goldwater look like a liberal."
He has a degree in business administration, is a veteran of the Korean War, married his college sweetheart -- and emerged from his years as the captive of a band of Marxist guerrillas wearing shoulder-length hair and a beard. The beard was shaved before 5 a.m. Sunday arrival at the Toledo airport; the hair was shorn Monday morning on a trip to a Toledo baber shop with his three sons.
He returned to a Tudor-style house in an affluent suburb of Toledo. His wife purchased it after leaving Caracas in July 1976. It is filled with his possessions, yet a friend from Owens-Illinois said Niehous doesn't seem to know yet which rooms are where.
Yesterday he went to visit an eye doctor and a dentist; in the jungle he was allowed to brush his teeth with his favorite toothpaste but did not have his eyeglasses.
In conversations with the reporters who have been besieging him since he has returned, he talked about his imprisonment, his kidnaping and his eventual release.
The gaunt man filmed by television cameras with tears in his eyes Sunday morning has gradually been replaced by the self-assured executive who speaks carefully and dispassionately of his years as "Numero Uno," as his captors called him.There is a trace of Spanish acent in his English; he says that after talking Spanish exclusively since 1976, he now thinks in the language and apologized for "fumbling" in English. It was hard to discern. 'i Need Your Help'
"the escape or release," Niehous recounted at a press conference, "occurred at about 3:30 on Friday afternoon. As I understand the occurrence, prior to actually seeing the people, two farmers along with two policemen on horseback arrived in the area searching for cattle thieves.
The fourth man, one of the farmers, stayed away, holding the four horses they arrived on. The two policemen walked into the camp via the back portion of the camp area, and just happened to, by pure luck I believe, encounter the house that I was held in. The house, or shack, was two rooms, and as he passed the door which was opened to the outside he saw me standing there.
"he said 'come out; the other policemen saw [my] two guards in the other section and said 'come out.' He told us . . . to identify ourselves. They presented their cards of indentification. I had no identification. They [the police] found a rifle and a machine gun in the room. And of course, that immediately allerted them to something rather serious, because farmers nomally don't carry machine guns I guess . . . .
"they then put a pair of handcuffs on two of the individuals, one pair, and they handcuffed both of my hands together . . . At that time, I just took it upon myself to say I would like to identify myself more fully. I'm a victim of a kidnaping, these people have kidnaped me. I need your help.
"when I said that, the two guards screamed or hollered, used the word buerro, which was a warning to the rest of the members in their groups, and they proceeded to run . . .
"the two policemen shot, emptied their revolvers, I believe. I did not hear any screams or anything like that. They came back to me, pointed a pistol at me. And I said, please, I'm a friend, don't shoot, I need your help. I'm Mr. Niehous. I was kidnaped . . . for some reason they believed me. They didn't shoot. And they said, 'let's get out of here.'" On a Teeter-Totter
Donna Niehous moved back to Toledo in July 1976, to the town where she had been raised and married Niehous 25 years ago. Later thay year she said in an interview in The Toledo Blade that she was "angry" and "bitter" but believed that her husband was alive. She said that she was being treated by a doctor for a problem stemming from clenching her teeth, and the interviewer described her hands as "clenched, clasped to her side to hide the raw, peeling skin and the nails split by the strain she endures." In that interview she said that her life was "like being on a Teeter-totter. I want to screem and holler. Instead, I clench my teeth and wait. 'we're the Army'
At his press conference Monday, Niehous continued his story, recalling that the four men got on horses, telling Niehous to run ahead of them.He ran until he was about to collapse and then asked to be allowed to get on a horse and did. One policeman and one farmer took off in another direction, leaving Niehous, and the second farmer and the other policeman riding through swampy wet jungle. They approached a farm house, heard the sound of a car, and, afraid that it belonged to the revolutionaries, dismounted and hid in the weeds. Niehous eventually decided to approach the farm house and hollered to see who would come out. Two men came out, and he said who he was, that he was with the policeman and asked for their help. He was taken back to the farm house in which a family with eight children lived. He was handcuffed and looked, as he said, a "rather dangerous looking person."
The entire group, "children running, dogs, the whold thing, like a caravan," set off walking down the road to another farm house that was described as the "headquaters" of the area. There the farmer recognized his name.
"he took me into the house, cut my handcuffs off, gave me dinner; I spent the night in that place. The next morning, he got up and rode by truck, because we had to cross a river, to search out the head commanding general of the police force to advise them where I was located.
"in the meantime, the policeman who had left in the jeep intially had arrived in the headquaters, had informed them of locating me, informed them of the shootout with the guerrillas, and that had mobilized the military. I was told there were 400 military people involved, along with the police department, along with the special police force, and they had been out since 10 the privious night searching this territory for me and for the guerrillas.
"at 11 the next morning as I was still in the headquaters, this farm-house, all of a sudden I noticed, looking out of the window, all of the soldiers with heavy arms coming up toward the farm house. There was a knock at the door saying 'open up, identify yourselves, we're the army.' Which I did . . . So I put my hands on my head, very obligingly, walked out the front door, and there all 25 military people were with their guns, not knowing what was happening inside. Sat me down on the ground and started to ask me questions. In spanish of course . . . I then realized the man on my right was a reporter from the Ciudad Bolivar newspaper. The man in front of me was a cameraman from the press . . . that was the first interview I had." Anniversary
Each year on the anniversary of her husband's kidnaping, Donna Niehous held a press conference to draw attention to her husband's plight. Niehous said since his return that he read about his wife in the Venezuelan newspaper that he was permitted to read. 'escape from Jail'
For the entire 3 1/2 years of his captivity, Niehous did not see a human face. His captors, who called themselves the Amilgo Cabeldon, wore hoods or masks, sometimes made out of shirts. For the first two years he was moved frequently, never staying more than four months in one place, living in jungle clearings with a sheet of plastic for shelter. The last 15 months the group spent in one place, and Niehous was kept in a small shack and provided with newspapers, an occasional magazine, and such books as "Full Disclosure," by William Safire and a popular Venezuelan work called "Escape From Jail." Belief in God
He described a typical day:
"i would wake up in the morning, if I say wake up it would be when the sun came up, at 6 or 5:30. Breakfast consisted of: it could be eggs, or it could be a can of deviled ham, it could be crackers, it could be a cup of coffee, very little but enough to keep me alive. Eight o'clock was breakfast.
"from 8 to 10 I could listen to "voice of America' on a portable radio. Prior to that, there was a local Venezuelan news. Lunch would come in at 1. At 4 I was able to listen to BBC news in English, the only real english that I could hear on the radio. At 5, again, there was news by the Venezuelan station. At 8 night
Voice of america would be allowed on in Spanish. $"t"i would be allowed out of the room I was kept in once or twice a week, say at night at 8 to walk a period of space of 20 meters for exercise. I'd be placed in, or I'd sit down or lay in the hammock that was there anytime from 8 to 10. They put a chain on my leg; at 9:30, or 8:30, depending on their desire. One chain attached to my leg; the other attached to a support of the house. And when I'd sleep from 10 until 6 is very highly negative. I might sleep two hours or I might sleep four hours. And the day would repeat itself beginning at daybreak."
His reading and prayer helped, he said. His belief in God has increased, he said, " a hell of a lot."
During his captivity, Owens-Illinois continued to pay his salary. After her initial problems, Donna Niehous worked as a voltunteer in Toledo's Museum of Art and in other activities.
Asked if he was planning to write a book, Niehous said, "I don't have an answer for you."
Monday, Donna Niehous was asked for her reaction to it all. She said, "We'll take it a day at a time, just like we did the last three years." CAPTION: Pictures 1, 2 and 3, William Niehous before his capture, right, and with his wife, Donna, before his shave and haircut, above, and after, far right. Weyer Photo Service