Air Force Col. David M. Roeder sat in the living room of his Fairfax County home yesterday, drinking coffee in front of a crackling fire and recalling 14 1/2 months spent in such Iranian accommodations as the "Mushroom Marriott," and "The Cooler" as one of the 52 captive Americans in Iran.
"During the early days after the embassy takeover I wrapped myself in curtains from the ambassador's room when I slept," Roeder, 41, said. "Once under them I untied my hands, and then tied them again loosely before I got up.
"When I wouldn't cooperate during the first grillings -- I was still blindfolded -- I was hit on the shoulder with what felt like a cardboard mailing tube. Then I was hit with a wet towel. The interpretor, 'Mary,' told me things would get worse, but I didn't believe them. Getting rid of the hostages would be like giving up their hole card."
Roeder's wife, Susie, sat nearby and listened with fascination as she heard her husband, the embassy's former assistant air attache, describe some of his experiences for the first time.
It was concern for his family, in fact, that most preoccupied Roeder, he said. He said he was told by his captors that "Iranian students in the United States would hurt my family if I didn't cooperate with them. They said they knew all about us. That was one of the most frightening experiences of the ordeal."
According to Roeder, a 19-year Air Force veteran who flew on hundreds of raids during two tours in Vietnam, "I regarded myself as a captive of war. oWhen they wanted more than my name, rank, and serial number, I frustrated them by answering indirectly, asking for the question to be repeated, or repeating the question itself."
He refused to talk at all until his blindold was taken off, although he remained tied to a chair. When the blindfold was removed, he said, "I didn't say much, either."
Roeder said he was questioned from Dec. 4 until Dec. 25, 1979. His interrogator, a man in his late 20s, "finally got so frustrated he started to cry. He put his head down on the table and there were tears on his cheeks." As punishment for refusing to cooperate, Roeder said, he was handcuffed to a chair in "the Cooler," an elevator shaft in "the Mushroom Marriott," a Tehran warehouse.
"I tried to jog in place to keep warm, and they said that was against the rules, so they handcuffed me to a cement cinder block. Do you know you can jog pretty well holding a cinder block in front of you?" he asked with a grin.
After what he now realizes was the failed rescue mission on April 25, 1980, "My hands were tied together so tightly with nylon strips they started to bleed. I complained and they were tied even tighter. I lost some use of my left hand, and it wasn't until last month that I regained full use of it," he said.
There is a thin white scar on his wrist from the incident.
Roeder was put in solitary confinement on four different occasions, the last time for 63 days. He kept in contact with his fellow hostages through various codes, he said. "One code was an alphabet represented by its position, one tap for A, two taps for B. Another code, written on paper, used a horizontal and vertical grid for letters. We told each other whom we had seen, and just plain gossiped."
Roeder found a used pill bottle in the bathroom, and he and others used it as a drop to pass messages. "We'd literally scavenge the garbage looking for notes. Americans will inevitably find ways to communicate," he said.
He was moved as many as a dozen times, and spent only 18 hours outdoors during his captivity. "Sometimes I didn't even know where I was."
At one prison, he said, his guards put remote-control TV cameras in the bathroom to monitor the hostages' activities. "Col. (Leland J.) Holland suggested that as we came out of the showers we salute the Iranians" with an obscene gesture that involved facing away from the camera and bending over.
We felt really good about doing it, but it was also a tremendous insult to the Iranians, who are embarrassed about nudity, and they removed the cameras," Roeder said.
Later, while isolated in a room at a villa in the northern section of Tehran, Roeder and hostage William J. Daugherty, a political officer, passed notes to each other after using spoons to dig a tiny hole in the wall separating them. "That was the most fun. He's a trivia buff. We quizzed each other on old movies and early television."
He regarded a threat of execution on Feb. 8, 1980, as "a farce. They jammed the bolts of their rifles, but I laughed at them."
Now getting used to wearing shoes and clean clothes again, Roeder said "the worst part disappears from memory quickly." But he added, "It would probably not be best for me to meet one of the captors right now."