Nine American hostages, including two residents of the Washington area and a student at the University of Virginia, arrived at Dulles International Airport last night after 82 sometimes harrowing days in Iraq and Kuwait.
Several hostages, welcomed with balloons, applause and tears, witnessed the shelling of the emir's palace in Kuwait City during the Aug. 2 invasion, slept on the floor of the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and worried about fellow hostages who were in need of medical care.
Jared Scogna, 20, a Fairfax County resident, said he believed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to release him and 13 other hostages this week was a "publicity ploy to divert attention from the real issue: those still over there."
Among the hundreds of Americans still held in Kuwait and Iraq is Scogna's father, Baldwin "Paul" Scogna, a U.S. Embassy employee.
Shouting over the crushing crowd of friends, relatives and reporters at the airport arrival gates, Scogna said, "I want my father out."
As he hugged his girlfriend and mother for the first time after almost three months in captivity, there were so many tears no one could talk. Finally, his mother, Ruth Scogna, said, "I'm so happy."
Peter Timko, 23, a graduate student in Arab studies at Georgetown University, recalled cringing as shells aimed at the Kuwaiti emir's palace cruised over his head during the invasion.
"There were about four or five times when I knew we were in pretty big trouble, and after we got to Baghdad, there were two or three more," he said in an interview at the Watergate Hotel, where the hostages stayed last night. "I found out later I was in more danger than I thought I was."
How many American hostages remain in Iraq and Kuwait is not exactly known. According to the State Department and U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, 104 men are believed held at Iraqi strategic sites, "human shields" against foreign attack. Several hundred more Americans are believed to be hiding in Kuwait, trying to avoid capture.
Many of those who arrived last night declined to give details about their confinement, including how many hostages they had left behind. Several referred questions to the State Department.
A State Department spokesman said that six of the 14 were in need of urgent medical care, two had critically ill relatives in the United States and six were students.
The other five hostages released this week arrived in New York City on Wednesday.
Amid the chaos at Dulles, many hostages answered questions only in fragments as they rushed to board a bus to the Watergate. When one hostage who limped off the plane was asked if he was glad to be home, the elderly man said with tears in his eyes: "You better believe it."
Scogna, Timko and University of Virginia graduate student Michael Capps were finishing summer internships at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait when Iraq invaded.
After several weeks, the three students, along with other Americans, drove to Baghdad, where they remained on U.S. Embassy property, unable to leave until this week.
Scogna, a junior at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., said "there are hundreds of Americans over there who are sick. Some of them have diabetes. The embassy has had to rush in insulin and medicines."
Scogna said that rumors of "atrocities in Kuwait" were rampant among the crowd at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Among them, he said, were stories of Iraqi soldiers shooting Kuwaitis and harassing and beating many others.
Of grave concern, he said, were the "over 100 Americans who are human shields."
"It's scary," he said.
Later, outside his home, Scogna said he spent his days in Baghdad working, playing basketball and exercising in a makeshift gym set up across the street from the embassy. After a few days' rest, he said he would return to James Madison and "salvage as much of the school year as I can."
A "Welcome Home" sign was posted on the tree outside Scogna's home near Vienna and friends from as far back as grade school poured into the house, celebrating his return.
Wearing a tie and a pin with American and Kuwaiti flags at the Watergate Hotel, Timko wrapped his arms around two friends and said he was looking forward to sleeping. He fled Iraq with only a small satchel and a plastic bag.
Like the other hostages, Timko, from Lancaster, Pa., stayed on U.S. Embassy property during the long wait in Baghdad. He slept on the floor of the economic officer's suite in the chancery. It had a comfortable carpet and was away from the noisier family areas, he said.
Although they had a round-the-clock telephone line open to the United States, they had little contact with other Americans who were hiding or being held elsewhere in Baghdad, he said.
To pass the time, Timko said he ran a football pool, collecting scores while he manned the phone line for up to eight hours a day. "This was my best week," said the Los Angeles Raiders fan. "It was one of the few when I picked above .500."
He was ambivalent when he went to Kuwait for an internship in the administrative section of the U.S. Embassy, because he feared his stay might be dull. "It turned out to be more interesting than I thought," he said.
Capps, wearing a U-Va. cap, said he had been rooting from afar for his No. 1-ranked Cavaliers football team. Capps, a 24-year-old Norfolk native, said he bided much of the time "watching a lot of movies and playing games."
His unexpected stay in Kuwait and Baghdad has not dissuaded him from a diplomatic career; he plans to take his Foreign Service examination tomorrow in Washington.