This time they came home to the neighborhoods and streets they knew. They found little children offering candlelight welcomes, high school bands striking up patriotic tunes and neighbors cheering. They ripped yellow ribbons from trees in their very own front yards.
"This is the real homecoming day," hostage Bruce Laingen said yesterday as he arrived finally at the front door of his Bethesda home.
In town such as tiny Olyphant, Pa., and suburbs such as Silver Spring and Fairfax, America's freed hostages returned yesterday to a homespun outpouring of emotion as deep as Tuesday's was huge.
By noon they were streaming out of the Crystal City Marriott to complete the final leg of a journey that had begun eight days ago in Tehran and had carried them to the first taste of freedom in Algiers, to rest in Wiesbaden, to family reunions in West Point and national adulation in Washington. And still, the crowds outside the Marriott wanted to touch and cheer them, and the smiling hostages seemed to love it, some of them going over to kiss the well-wishers, shake their hands or offer shouts of "Thanks," or "We love you."
With that same rush of joy, Gary E. Lee headed for home to be met by a mini-motorcade, led by children on bicycles and motorbikes who escorted him through the streets of Fairfax.He arrived at his home on Bolling Road to find cases of beer awaiting him, along with a sign on a neighbor's lawn that read, "All That Way for a Stroh's."
So tumultuous and crowded was this homecoming that Lee could hardly get to his own front door. "Can I just look inside for a minute?" he asked the well-wishers and reporters. "I'm not going anywhere for a few days."
To complete his homecoming ritual, the 37-year-old Lee walked with his wife Pat down the block to the spot where his baby-blue, 1971 Mercedes was parked. "Hey, it looks great. You took good care of it, honey," Lee said as he gave the fender an affectionate thump.
After the crowd thinned out, he jumped behind the wheel, drove down the block and parked outside his own Cod-style house. Gary Lee was finally home.
For two former hostages, illness delayed the return home. Robert Ode of Sun City, Ariz., at 65 the oldest of the group, remained hospitalized in Arlington yesterday for treatment of bronchitis, high fever and exhaustion. Army Col. Leland Holland, 52, of Fairfax County was admitted to Walter Reed Army Hospital Tuesday for treatment of bronchitis and was reported resting confortably yesterday.
Other hostages contracted similar illness. Col. Leland Holland was admitted to Walter Reed Medical Center with bronchitis on Tuesday. Career diplomat Bruce Laingen ended yesterday's festivities with doctor's orders to stay in bed. Running a 102-degree temperature, he was suffering respiratory problems and chest pains.
Nonetheless, Laingen had a decided spring in his step when he reached his house yesterday morning. He danced a jig on the front lawn. He strutted to his old oak tree and ripped down the yellow ribbon, the one that started the whole national craze. The delighted Laingen reached his own front door amidst a streetside flourish of patriotism and mirth the likes of which Old Chester Road in Bethesda will probably never see again.
Looking trim in a three-piece suit, Laingen released 52 yellow balloons to the sky, drawing cheers and applause from a crowd of neighbors and kin. He received gifts of cake and dried flowers -- an old favorite from bachelor days -- and signed autographs for adoring children. With straight-faced understatement, he said: "It's not the most usual return from work that I've ever had."
The Pyle Junior High Jazz Band, set up on the Laingen's front lawn, pumped out festive music, including the inevitable "Yellow Ribbon" song, which prompted Laingen's brief display of dance-floor talent. Later the band and the crowd joined in "America the Beautiful."
Laingen's wife Penne and his three sons beamed with pride as their celebrated father, the former deputy chief of mission in Tehran, performed for the crowd. "I've missed a lot of school but what the hell," laughed University of Minnesota student Chip Laingen, dressed in his naval ROTC uniform. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Finally, Laingen mounted his front steps, ripped more yellow ribbons off the knocker, flashed victory signs and two-handed waves and disappeared behind a closed door.
By most accounts, Penne Laingen unwittingly spawned the phenomenon of yellow ribbons late in 1979 when she wrapped one around a genuine old oak tree on their split-level home's front lawn. Later families holding vigils at the still-open Iranian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue put ribbons on their candles and the symbol caught on.
The Laingens arrived at their house in a black limousine with police motorcycle escort after a tumultuous drive through Bethesda.
At Pyle Junior High, where son Jim Laingen is a 9th grader, close to a thousand students sporting ribbons on lapels, wrists, thighs and belt loops mobbed the limo and Laingen himself when he dared to step out of it. A sea of wriggling bodies propelled the former hostage forward, threatening to knock his glasses askew. One woman onlooker quipped that reporters might have to say that Bruce Laingen "survived Iran but not Pyle Junior High."
In Silver Spring, Alan Golacinski, a former embassy security officer, also was welcomed with an intensity normally reserved for rock stars or presidents. A flag-waving, cheering crowd of 1,500 pressed to close to his car when it reached the Pinecrest Recreation Center that policemen had to escort him out.
The band from Northwood High School, Golacinski's alma mata, was on hand as was the former hostage's old football coach, Jerry Sisson. He presented the powerfully built, mustachioed Golacinski with a football jersey "on behalf of all the athletes at Northwood," recalling that Golacinski still holds the school record for pass receptions in one game.
After another boisterous welcome at Pinecrest Elementary School, the former hostage and his family drove toward their home on Cherry Tree Lane, passing a giant "Welcome Home, Alan" banner on which two neighbors had expanded three days and six coats of paint.
"I think it's wonderful -- I've been in tears ever since he was released," said Myrtle Smisek, a crossing guard who showed up with a hundred other people to greet Golacinski at his home. Local fire-fighters had put yellow ribbons on pets, baby carriages and Smisek's car. "I was so excited," she said.
Some of the hostages spoke with an air of disbelief. Foreign Service inspector John Graves, who returned to his Reston home Tuesday night, said, "I can't believe I'm here, but I am." Emerging from his home's front door, he found children with lighted candles, an American flag and signs of welcome scrawled on diaper cartons.
Returned hostage David M. Roeder, a 41-year-old Air Force colonel, was greeted with sustained applause and cheers last night when he appeared before his local civic association in Fairfax County. He told more than 200 persons at the Riverside civic association meeting at Mount Vernon High School, "I've been home a little more than three hours and I have decided there aren't any words in the English language adequate to express the appreciation of the hostages to the American people" for the support during their captivity.
All over the country, families and friends were turning out for welcome fests or planning elaborate ceremonies for soon-to-arrive loved ones.
At a St. Louis airport, a giant yellow ribbon was wrapped around the control tower to welcome Marine Sgt. Rocky Sickmann. Ribbons marked each mile of the route to his nearby hometown of Krakow, where "Welcome Home, Rocky" sighs have appeared on trees and in numerous windows.
A few former hostages pleaded for privacy. Phillip Ward of Culpeper stopped by the town hall yesterday to chat with officials but the public wasn't invited. His family had asked that the visit be kept secret.
Ward seemed like "a nervous wreck," Mayor Richard Rosenberg said. "He looks like a man who wants to be left alone."
But privacy was an elusive commodity for most of the former hostages. There seemed to be more celebrations planned at every turn for them.
There is the ticker tape parade Friday in New York City. All the small town celebrations. The community of Reston is planning to rename the Washington Birthday holiday, Feb 16, "John Graves Day."
Several Thanksgiving services for the freed Americans are scheduled for today. The Washington Cathedral, the Fifth Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Interfaith Conference, which will hold its service on the Capitol steps, have scheduled services for noon. The Council of Churches will hold a service at 7:30 p.m. at the Simpson-Hamline United Methodist Church in the District, and there will be another service at 8 p.m. at Fairfax Presbyterian Church.
But yesterday, in at least one place, the hostages' final homecoming had brought on a new sense of calm. By mid-afternoon regular guests began to check in at the Crystal City Marriott and police began to rip down the barricades that had held back the crowds.
Arlington Police Officer Dave Kelly carried off a section of the barricades and said it had been "terrific" to be part of the celebration.
"It's obviously a part of history," Kelly said. Then, reflecting on the hostages' 14 months captivity, he added: "But history like this, we don't need."