Beatings, loneliness, death threats, a life without sunlight, physical abuses, a Spartan diet and a host of other deprivations, major and minor, defined the daily life of the American hostages in their Iranian prisons, according to the early accounts coming out of West Germany.
In the emotional aftermath of their release, some of the freed captives burned up the phone lines from their hospital quarters in Wiesbaden with the pent-up bile of 14 months as they tried to explain to their families at home just what they've been through, what they have survived. They also told of brave acts by their fellow hostages, and vented their feelings of hatred for their Iranian captors. Some of the families passed the stories on.
At the same time, some of the hostages freed months earlier broke their silence regarding the extent of their own mistreatment in captivity, now that their comrades are safe. They tell chilling tales of a masked firing squad and forced games of Russian roulette.
Because of his repeated escape attempts, Malcolm Kalp told his brother, he was beaten twice, kept in solitary confinement for 374 days and denied mail from home. Kalp was one of several hostages Iranian militants accused of being a CIA agent.
In the predawn hours after his release, Marine Sgt. Johnny McKeel, 27, grabbed the first phone he saw and called home. When he heard his mother's voice, he said, "They told me you were dead." His captors also knocked out one of his teeth, he said.
Michael Metrinko, known in the early aftermath of the U.S. Embassy seizure as "they mystery hostage" because he was never seen, told his parents in Pennsylvania that he was held in solitary confinement for nearly nine months.
Col. Leland Holland, embassy security chief, told his 79-year-old mother in Scales Mound, Ill., that he spent a month in something called the "dungeon," and that Iranians ransacked his house in the American compound and took everything, including his watch, rings, furniture and clothes. He referred to his captors as "SOBs."
Robert Ode, at 65 the oldest hostage, told his wife his Iranian captors for some reason took his shoes immediately after his captivity. Only five minutes before he walked to his plane was he provided a new pair. They were plastic shower slippers.
Richard Queen, released Tehran five months ago because of illness, provided new details of being led before a "fake firing squad" in a terrifying night raid by men in white masks who carried automatic rifles.Queen said the terrorists lined the hostages up against a wall. Certain he was going to die, he said, "I just tried to give myself last rites, said the Lord's Prayer."
Lloyd Rollins, one of the 13 blacks and women released within two weeks after their capture, said in an interview that in an effort to "get information," the militants forced two embassy secretaries to play Russian roulette.
"They put a bullet in the chamber, spun the chamber, and they clicked the trigger off on a couple of girls," Rollins said.
William Belk, who is more than six feet tall, told his Aunt Pearl that he dropped to a weight of 133 pounds at one point and that only in the final three weeks of captivity did the Iranians improve the daily bill of fare, presumably in anticipation of their release. His weight is now back up to 166 pounds.
The reports also included instances of American bravery or cussedness under fire.
Bruce laingen, charge d'affaires and the highest ranking of the diplomats in Iran, refused an offer to leave Iran, unless his fellow hostages could go with him, according to CBS News. The report also said that each of the 52 "steadfastly residted any temptation to bargain for their freedom by indulging in false confessionals or any other anti-American rites and particularly in the early stages."
On the night of the firing-squad raid described by Queen, Navy Commander Don A. Sharer of Cheasapeake, Va., stood up to the Iranian terrorists. When the masked gunmen ordered their captives to lie on the floor, according to Queen, Sharer refused. He said: "You're going to shoot me standing up, not lying down."
Danny Lopez of Globe, Ariz., revealed a secret that he'd been keeping -- the knowledge that his brother, Marine Sgt. Jimmy Lopez, 22, helped in the widely publicized escape of six Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Information, both official and informal, is too sketchy to tell the scope of the physical abuse, how many captives were seriously mistreated or for how long. Some reports from freed hostages have indicated that conditions improved after the first few months.
Some familes were reluctant to reveal the details reported to them by their freed relatives in their phone calls. Others said the former captives just didn't want to talk about the conditions of the past 444 days yet.
"Most of them lost everything," former hostage Richard Morefield, consul general at the embassy, told his wife in San Diego. "I walked out with my wedding ring and i had to fight for that."
"His digust for his captors came through in every way," said Morefield's wife Dorothea, adding that the Iranians "played unbelieveably cruel games."
Former hostage John D. McKeel's father, a plumber in Balch Springs, Tex., had drifted off to sleep when the phone rang early yesterday. He answered as his wife, Wynona, grabbed her robe and headed for the extension. Father and son talked for a moment before young John realized that Mrs. McKeel was on the phone.
"Hi, Johnny, it's your mom," Mrs. McKeel said.
"Mom, they told me you was dead," McKeel said.
"They were interrrogating me," he told his mother, "and I would give them only my name, rank and serial number."
"They came back and told him I was dead," Mrs. McKeel recalled yesterday morning, "and told him if he cooperated they would let him come home for my funeral, but he didn't cooperate."
Iranian guards had knocked out one of McKeel's teeth, he told his mother, but she had no other details of how it happened.
At least one member of the family of Kalp wanted to get even with the Iranians for the two beatings and the solitary confinement he ascribed to them. Lisa Kalp, his 17-year-old daughter in Brockton, Mass., suggested that the U.S. government should cancel its agreement to return Iranian assets. "If the Iranians want to play dirty pool, we can play the same way."
Kalp's assignment in Iran remains unclear. Militants there had charged that a top-secret cable found in the U.S. embassy identified him as a CIA agent. His daughter described him as an economic adviser.
Except for the plastic shower slippers, Robert Ode, the thin "old man" of the freed 52, was wearing the same white windbreaker and other clothes when he walked to freedom that he had on when he was taken hostage, according to his wife, Rita.
He told her that just five minutes before his departure, his captors showed him to a room to pick out a pair of shoes from a pile. He didn't know why they had taken his own shoes. "They're just insane, anyway," she said.
The only news Ode heard during captivity, he told her, was that Ronald Reagan and George Bush had been elected and -- erroneously -- that Henry A. Kissinger had been appointed national security adviser.
Former hostage Elizabeth Montagne, one of the two women forced to play Russian roulette, called her treatment at the hands of the Iranians "degrading, humiliating and dehumanizing. . . . There was never a threat of a physical beating with . . . fists or clubs, but it was mental abuse. And there were threats with guns." She was among those released after a few weeks in captivity.
Rollins, who witnessed the Russian roulette incident, said that at least for his group, those kinds of scare tactics ended after a few days, "when they got to know us."
Government officials kept quiet about such instances of brutality while the 52 Americans remained captive so as not to endanger them, said State Department spokesman David Passage. He added that "we will have a good deal to say about it" after U.S. officials have spoken further to the 52.
Staff Sgt. James O. Hughes, also in the group of 13 released earlier, expressed disappointment with the United States' handling of the crisis. The release Tuesday of the rest of the hostages, he said, was brought about largely by the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. "The Iranians don't know what he will do. He may not have reacted as Carter did all those months," Hughes said.
Perhaps the most spine-curling story so far is Queen's description of the bizarre incident he called "the gestapo raid."
It took place in early February 1980, in the windowless warehouse basement the hostages called "The Mushroom Inn," where they were forbidden to talk and treated to 20 minutes of fresh air each week, Queen said.
At about 1 a.m., a group of men in white masks, wearing fatigues and combat boots and carrying automatic rifles pushed the captives into a large room. There, they were lined up against the walls.
It was at this point that Sharer refused to lie down. After that, everybody was allowed to stand.
"There was dead silence," Queen said softly. "Then all i heard was the metallic clicking of the weapons, locking the bolts, removing the safety, I don't know which . . . I just tried to give myself last rites, said the Lord's Prayer."
The terrorists took the hostages individually to a small room, stripped them to their underpants and searched them. Meanwhile, "another group went to our little rooms and tore them apart. Then we were taken back individually to our rooms."
Queen never knew who the men were or why the raid occurred. "It just might have been a pure terror tactic. I think it was."
Queen was released by the Iranians last July after he developed multiple sclerosis, a degenerative nerve disease.
Some of the Iranians who held him captive "are complete slimy bastards," he said, "I have nothing but contempt and evil for them."
After mid-March, he said, he was moved from the Mushroom to another building in the embassy compound where conditions were much better. "One, because we had windows and there was light . . . a room which had a window which was bricked over but there was a little crack and some light came in. "And . . . just to hear people outside. I remember there was a couple of schoolgirls, just walking along and talking and singing outside and it just -- again, something that can't really be described, what it meant to feel life again."