One year ago yesterday, Terry Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Beirut, was dropping off a photographer at his home around 8 in the morning after a game of tennis when three gunmen forced Anderson out of his car and kidnaped him.
During this past year, Anderson's sister Peggy Say, 45, has put aside being a social worker and a college student to take on something else:
"Getting my brother out of Lebanon has been my job for the past year," she said yesterday, in Washington to participate in a service and vigil to remember her brother and the six other hostages.
In that year, Say has traveled here numerous times from her home in Batavia, N.Y., and kept in contact with the families of other hostages held in Beirut; she has called for more aggressive U.S. government action to get the hostages out; she has gotten angry at President Reagan, and she has put all her hope in Terry Waite, aide to the archbishop of Canterbury and a proven negotiator in other international crises.
At times, she has been euphorically high with hope that her brother was coming home, and she has made the "very long" trip back down when he didn't. "We kind of level out and then we promise ourselves that we will never let our hopes get that high," she said, "and then we get some word -- and they go up again."
And yesterday -- her brother still not home, her job uncompleted -- after another church service full of hope and pain, where the pews were once again decorated with yellow ribbons, she said, "I feel real comforted by the faces I saw in church today -- State Department officials, families of hostages, former hostages, officials of the Associated Press. I think it's a day Terry would really appreciate and be touched by."
There are seven hostages -- six American and one British -- still held in Beirut. Eric Jacobsen, 29, the son of a hostage, read the roll call of names from the pulpit of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.
"I think the purpose of roll call is to humanize and put a face to a pretty faceless thing called 'hostage,' " he said from the pulpit of the church. "I could probably talk for hours on end about each of these men and still not show you their faces. The only way to do that is to bring them home."
In addition to Anderson, there is David Jacobsen -- Eric's father -- the administrator of the American University Hospital, kidnaped in May 1985. There is the Rev. Martin Lawrence Jenco, the head of Catholic Relief Services, kidnaped in January 1985; there is Thomas Sutherland, dean of the agriculture school at the American University in Beirut, who was kidnaped in June 1985; there is Peter Kilburn, a librarian at the American University, missing since December 1984; there is William Buckley, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. There is British journalist Alec Collett, working on a three-month assignment as information consultant for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, who was kidnaped south of Beirut on March 25, 1985.
Islamic Jihad, a shadowy Shiite fundamentalist group, claims to have abducted Jacobsen, Sutherland, Anderson and Jenco -- who, families have been told, are being held together. Last fall, Islamic Jihad announced they had killed Buckley and released a photograph of what they said were his remains. The U.S. government says this does not prove his death. As for Kilburn, a relative, Rose Kilburn, said yesterday, "We know that he's alive."
Last September, Islamic Jihad released the Rev. Benjamin Weir, Presbyterian minister.
The service -- and the candlelight vigil yesterday evening in Lafayette Park -- were sponsored by the American Hostage Committee (an organization formed by the families), "No Greater Love," and the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA).
Their goal -- aside from getting the hostages home -- is straightforward: They don't want people to forget.
Jeremy Levin, the Cable News Network bureau chief in Beirut who was held hostage for 11 months before he escaped in February 1985, told the church crowd, "In my fifth week of captivity I had a complete and profound spiritual awakening."
Reading from the pocket-size red Bible that his captors gave him -- and which he showed the congregation yesterday -- Levin found strength and comfort, he said. "Despite the chain and locks on the door, I was free."
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the guest preacher yesterday, compared building foreign policy around the fate of the seven hostages to Jesus exhorting the publicans to leave their "99 sheep" in search of the lost ones.
"Can not the 99 wait while we find the lost sheep?" Jackson asked. " . . . We measure our character not by how we care for the 99 -- who can take care of themselves -- but how we care for the ones who are lost and need our help."
With Easter two weeks away, Jackson noted, "Easter reminds us that even good men are held hostage, even good men are crucified . . . but they cannot stop the stone from being rolled away, they cannot stop the Resurrection."
Family members are varied in age, geography and occupation. They don't really see each other that much. But there are the phone calls -- for some like Eric Jacobsen, only occasional, for others like Peggy Say, it's at least once a week to trade rumors and comfort each other. And there are the trips to Washington like this one. They make no pretense of being best of friends -- they are together for one overwhelming, passionate reason.
"I think there's a kind of instant bonding," said Peggy Say.
You see it among them instantly. You see it in their shorthand looks and whispers, you see it in the way one will give another a casual but warm hand on the shoulder in conversation or a playful hug -- "Oh, you're so strong," said Say, giving Eric Jacobsen's brother Paul a friendly hug. He made a comment about lifting weights and she admonished his lack of trendiness: "It's not called lifting weights anymore. It's pumping iron." At brunch they seem relaxed and quietly easy with each other. Theirs is an intimacy born out of a shared pain.
"Nobody knows what the families are going through," Say commented.
It got worse in the fall when, after criticizing the government for what the families consider lack of aggressive action, they found themselves getting negative comments.
"To be put in this position and then get criticism for criticizing the government for not doing what they should do -- there were times when the families felt everyone was against them," Say noted. "That attitude has changed some."
Now, Say sounds a little more reconciled to the government's ways. "We haven't been on the best of terms but I want the government to know we appreciate their efforts," she said.
But the fact is that the families get little information about their hostage relatives, and some family members quite freely say they want the government to be more aggressive. Some have urged the government to discuss with the captors their demands for the release of 17 Arabs held by Kuwait following the 1983 bombings of American, French, and Kuwaiti installations there. Kuwait has refused.
And the United States, according to Say, has given "the answer, 'We don't deal in the internal politics of another country.' Given the contras and other situations, I wonder if they realize how foolish they sound."
But the families press on. Eric and Paul Jacobsen have even written and recorded a song, "When the Word Comes," about the feelings of families of all hostages.
And the families still see hope in various national and international figures. Jackson spoke privately with family members after the service in what Eric Jacobsen called a "pep talk."
And Terry Waite is their godsend now -- he is the man who went to Beirut several times in November and December and had conversations regarding the fates of the hostages. Say spoke with him in Canada last Friday. "He asked the families to have faith in him -- which we have no problem with. We have no one else," Say chuckled.
At a press conference after the church service, family members who wanted a turn to talk got it.
"Make your voice be heard. Write your congressman, write the president. This is an issue people are concerned about," Eric Jacobsen said.
"I would like to take this opportunity," said 24-year-old Diane Jacobsen, looking out imploringly at the assembled cameras, her eyes welling with tears, "that one of these cameras will get a message to my Dad -- " she choked on her tears, "that we love him very much." Jacobsen turned away from the podium and Sue Franceschini, Jenco's sister, put her arms around her.
"I think there was a feeling at one point that the families would go away," said Peggy Say at the press conference. "That we'd get tired or run out of money. We've come close to that . . . "
"All of the above," quipped a relative standing behind Say.
"But we've begged, borrowed, stole to get back here to Washington," continued Say. "The administration has made mistakes, the families have made mistakes, the State Department has made mistakes. But I think we're all working together now."