Beneath drizzling gray skies, where the colors and images of the Mall's landscape faded into Monet pastels, relatives of American hostages in Iran laid a wreath and a plaque at the feet of Abraham Lincoln's statue at his memorial yesterday afternoon.
A crowd of about 200, including Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, watched solemnly during the silent vigil. About 15 relatives of hostages were present, including many children. A few more white armbands with the number "50" written on them. Some wiped tears from their eyes.
After a Marine honor gurad presented the "colors" -- the American flag -- Charles Laingen, 18-year-old son of U.S. charge d'affaires Bruce Laingen, and Duncan Kennedy, 14-year-old son of hostage michael Kennedy, laid a red and green boxwood wreath at the statue.
They were followed by Rose Holland, 20, daughter of Col. Leland Holland, and Christopher German, 9, and Dana Lee, 12, relatives of other hostages, who presented the plaque. It was inscribed with a quote from Lincoln that read:
"Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves and under a just God cannot long retain it."
Penne Laingen, wife of the U.S. charge d'affaires held in the foreign embassy in Tehran under protective custody, said the purpose of the vigil was to call for the hostages' early release.
"I don't want the Iranians to think that the calm that Americans are showing is weakness, but just the opposite," she said. "It's strength and resolve. We want our relatives home for Christmas."
The vigil drew relatives from the Washington area and their friends, as well as bystanders who had come to visit the memorial.
When asked about a statement made yesterday by Iranian Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh that some of the hostages may be released before Christmas, Vance responded, "I hope and pray that this will be true."
After the wreath-laying and a few moments of silence, the gathering began singing Christmas carols, led by a few choir members of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on River Road in Bethesda. Singing "Joy to the World," and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," their voices, first just a couple and then dozens, rang throughout the open concrete and marble chamber of the Lincoln Memorial.
Rose Holland, daughter of Col. Leland Holland, stood singing carols and occassionally wiped tears from her eyes. "My special message is that we love him and we want him home," she said.
Louise Kennedy, wife of hostage Michael Kennedy, said the release of the hostages "would be the biggest Christmas present for all of us."
Bystanders who came to the Lincoln Memorial unaware of the vigil, nonetheless joined the solemnity and later joined in the Christmas carol singing.
"I was touched by the (cermony), but I didn't know this was going on," said Ginny Caputo, from Columbus, Ga.
After the vigil yesterday, some relatives and others presented another wreath at the Iranian embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW with a message: "Set our people free. Let our people go."