In their first full day back home, the returned American hostages poured forth throughout the day with poignant accounts of their 444 days of captivity -- mechanisms they developed for survival and their longing for freedom.
Charles Jones Jr., the only black returnee, said his Iranian captors held a gun to his head and threatened to poke his eyes out because "they wanted certain information from me, and I just wouldn't do it."
"I was kicked in the ribs, had my hands stepped on, my head bumped against the wall," he told reporters gathered outside the stately old Hotel Thayer.
Moorhead Kennedy, the economics officer at the seized embassy, told of listening to other hostages being beaten with whips and "the little yelps" that followed.
Kennedy, in an interview with ABC-TV, said that one of his colleagues -- whom he did not identify -- tried to commit suicide in Iran and that the Americans' militant captors were "shaking us down for anything which might be used to help somebody commit suicide," such as belts, razor blades and neckties.
Kennedy said he was determined to survived with dignity, and that he clung to little memories, such as pictures of his wife and children. In the deep reaches of his mind, he reviewed accounts of prison life by Russian authors.
His desire not to crack under the continuous fear of death reminded him, he said, of King Charles I, who suposedly wore an extra shirt to his execution so that he would not be seen trembling in the cold.Kennedy said he endured by keeping "a sense of ridiculousness" about his situation.
But in a strange way, Kennedy said, all the long days and nights spent in captivity may have been worth it. "I think we all feel we helped bring America together," he said.
The accounts came on a day that was supposed to be reserved for private reunions and rest at the U.S. Military Academy on the bluffs high above the Hudson River. The hostages will be able to tell their stories at a nationally televised news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, but with 1,000 reporters here, many of them couldn't wait.
Some wanted to set the record straight, to let America know that they, or their loved ones, are okay, and not among the dozen or so former captives that President Reagan has been told suffered "severe" psychological damage.
Theresa Gallegos branded as "a lie" reports that her son William is severely depressed. She said that her Marine son is "fine, thank God. He came into my room twice this morning telling me to get up."
"The way Bill was when he left, he's still that way," she added.
Others simply wanted to express their joy at being home and their surprise at the welcome they have received.
"We're all just marvelous," said Elizabeth Ann Swift, 40, one of two women returnees. "We're all just walking around with silly grins on our faces."
"It's like taking a bath in love," said Kathryn L. Koob. "It's beautiful. We'll all soak in it for hours."
"I just can't put it into words how good it feels," said hostage Clair C. Barnes of Falls Church, Va. Asked about his health, Barnes, standing in the brisk winter air, said, "I'm depressed sometimes. I knew we'd get out of captivity sooner or later, but I didn't know how long it would be. I feel very emotional to be home."
Marine Cpl. Steven Kirtley was still angry over the treatment he received from the Iranians, telling reporters: "I'm ready to go back and stomp their a----."
Jones said the Americans were "furious" when Time magazine named Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini its "Man of the Year" in 1979.Jones said his captors taunted him with the magazine's citation.
Not every hostage talked to reporters today, which was, after all, a private day.
"This is just for us," shouted Bonnie Graves, wife of former hostage John E. Graves, as they jogged along Thayer Road. Many of the freed Americans and their families spent the day doing all-American things. They strolled around the campus. They ate hamburgers and filet mignon.
The hostages attended a reunion church service and took a trip in late afternoon to the academyS PX. Tonight they were escorted to an emotional dinner with the 4,300-member Corps of Cadets. Richard H. Morefield spoke for many of his colleagues when he said he was taking this "one step at a time."
"Give me time, please, to sort of come into this gradually," he pleaded.
Some of the former hostages began to raise more questions about their long ordeal, Jones, for example, raised questions about the clergymen and others who gave glowing reports of the conditions of the hostages after visits to Tehran. "There's something going to come out about that, that's not going to be too good for some of the people that did visit . . . A lot of the people who came were very, very sympathetic to the [Iranian] cause."
"What they failed to realize was that we were in almost a state of war," he added. By invading the U.S. Embassy, Iranian students actually "committed an act of war," he said.
L. Bruce Laingen, the U.S. charge d'affaires, was mobbed by reporters when he went on a walk with his son, Bill, 21. Pointing to his son, the returnee said, "Why don't you ask him something, he's a hostage, too. Families were all hostages, too."
As the top-ranking former hostage, Laingen said he thought the Reagan administration should readily accept all the terms of the realease agreement that the Carter administration negotiated with Iran. "If we don't, we're no better than they are," he added.
Victor Tomseth, one of three Americans, including Laingen, held in the Iranian Foreign Ministry away from the other hostages, revealed that the Iranian government had known that some Americans had escaped when the embassy was seized, but the government did nothing about it.
Tomseth, who ventured out of the Thayer with his wife holding his arm, also said that he had helped arrange secret lodgings for the six embassy employes, first with a Thai friend, then a British friend and later with Canadians in an attempt to keep them "one step ahead of the students." On Jan. 29, 1980, the six were smuggled out of Iran with Canadian passports.
This morning's memorial church service was laced with symbolism. During it, families sang "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," "Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past" and "Now Thank We All Our God." Chaplain Alfred Brough read the 46th Psalm, which begins: "God is our refuge and our strength, and an ever present help in distress."
"The service," said Koob, "looked like it had been designed by us, the hymns that we sang, the anthems that were sung were all very, very meaningful to us."
Another song that has taken on new meaning for the freed Americans is "Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree." And while they approve of it, Cordy Barnes said they chose another song "we thought was more appropriate" for their theme -- Freddie Fender's "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights."