The freed American hostages completed their medical testing tonight, packed their new suitcases, held one more happy get-together and prepared to leave Sunday morning on the final leg of their freedom flight from hostile Iran to their homeland.
Although their flight -- scheduled to leave here before dawn Washington time and reach Stewart Airport in Newburgh, N.Y., at 3 p.m. -- has been timed to allow the freed hostages to watch the Super Bowl football game on television, several said today that their strongest desire was to see their families.
Except for several still reported today to bery depressed and staying in their rooms much of the time, the freed hostages spent many of their final hours of what one called "decompression" here stretching their legs, relaxing and celebrating.
A boisterous beer, champagne and lobster party last night was followed by a steak and tacos dinner tonight, their last big get-together in what amounts to reorienting group therapy before they return to the United States.
After arrival at Stewart in a white presidential jet after their nine-hour flight across the Atlantic, the 50 men and two women will be taken by bus to the U.S. Military Academy at nearby West Point for the first meeting that most of them will be having with their families.
"What are you looking forward to?" Col. Thomas Schaeffer was asked by a visitor to the hospital lobby, where the freed hostages have mingled this week with service personnel and their familes stationed here.
"Family," Schaeffer answered, according to the visitor.
"And after that?"
Several of the released hostages wandered out of the hospital today for strolls in the residential neighborhood around it on a hazy, ice cold day.
Pursued by crowds of reporters, some answered questions about their captivity. Others reported how happy they were to be free and how pleased they were with their treatment here by U.S. officials, hospital staff, the American military and West Germans. bA few curtly stated their displeasure at being bothered by the press.
One of the most effusive, Bruce Laingen, who ran the American embassy in Tehran as charge d'affaires when it was seized, told reporters, "We are deeply grateful to this city, this country and everyone" for their reception. "We're surrounded by friends, Americans and West Germans," he said. "We're already home."
The returning Americans have been showered with gifts from Germans and soldiers here. The schoolchildren from the American community serenaded them, and a West German military band played the Star Spangled Banner. West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt sent each a porcelain copy of the Liberty Bell.
In preparation for their departure, they submitted to their first government administrative chores in nearly 15 months today. They filled out forms, and the diplomats met with State Department officials to discuss their next assignment.
They and the military men are expected to be back at work after 30 days of leave, State Department spokesman Jack Cannon said, except for those requiring further treatment for psychiatric problems.
Preliminary psycholigical testing and treatment ended today, Cannon said, with more to follow in the United States. Asked about the unspecified number suffering from what the leader of the medical team here called "posttraumatic stress syndrome" and serious depression, Cannon said today, "In no way have these symptoms faded from the scene."
The former hostages telling reporters more about their experiences divided over how much bitterness they bore the Iranians.
Kathryn Koob, an International Communication Agency employe who ran the Iranian-American Society in Tehran, told ABC and CBS television that not all Iranians should be blamed for the hostages' capture and treatment.
John Limbert, a political officer whose wife is a native of Iran, said, "The Iranians are fine people. The tragedy of the thing is that this group [the militants] did what it did and distroted peoples' ideas. They are a people of talent, ability, great kindness, great hospitality. That's what I thought before. I still think so."
But Steven Lauterbach, who was an administrative officer, said, "I do feel a pretty substantial amount of bitterness towards the Iranians.
"I hate to say I'm bitter towards all Iranians," he told Stars and Stripes, the newspaper for the American military overseas, "but I have to say that apparently the Iranian government was fully committed to keeping us in prison, and apparently the majority of the Iranian people were, too."
Army Sgt. Donald Hohman told Stars and Stripes, "All I want to see is a scorched-earth policy in Iran. I want to make it clear to Iran that they don't have any right to treat people the way they treated the hostages."
Hohman, whose German-born wife and children live here, will join the other 51 freed hostages for the homecoming activities in the United States and then will return here.
Asked by a crowd of reporters following him when he tried to take a walk today for examples of abuse he suffered in Iran, Moorehead Kennedy, who worked in the embassy's economic section, said, "I think the whole 444 days were abuse." Kennedy, whose wife Louisa has been a leading spokesman for the hostage relatives, then asked reporters to leave him alone.
Although there have been reports that some of the former hostages are suffering guilt feelings for statements they made under duress on Iranian television, Air Force Col. David Roeder, who was military attache at the embassy, said, "I don't think there is any animosity among the returned hostages at all. It's been the reverse. There has been a great deal of drawing together, sharing of experiences, a great deal of compassion among us." d
Asked how he expected to readjust to life back with his family, he said, "I have a happy married life and two beautiful children, and the only thing I think is that it will be even better than before."
Navy Cmdr. Donald Sharer, also a military attache, agreed. "I'm in the Navy and have had absences of six months or more in the past and fallen right back into family life. I foresee no problems."
"We feel like a group," Sharer said. "We are one bunch who are just damn glad to be out of there. We would like to thank the American people who supported us."
Letters that reached the hostages in Iran "and the feelings we would pick up all indicated that the support of the American people was constant," Roeder said, "and what happened to us was a catalyst for bringing the country together."