The national spirit of patriotism and celebration that has swirled around the freed American hostages swept into two small Northern Virginia communities yesterday as thousands turned out to cheer Malcolm Kalp and Philip Ward as home town heroes.
The normally quiet suburban streets of Fairfax City's Comstock subdivison overflowed with flag-waving men and woman, homemade banners that ranged from"Duty, Honor, Country" to "Welcome Home Malcolm," and children, some dressed in red, white and blue "Uncle Sam" outfits, yellow ribbons, the symbol of the national hostage celebration, were everywhere.
Raising both hands above his head in the "V" for victory salute, a smiling Kalp, a State Department officer, arrived at his townhouse for the first time in 14 months shortly after noon. He stepped from his car into the waiting crowds and proclaimed: "It's wonderful to be home."
"Malcolm! Malcolm!" the crowd shot back, jubilant at the sight of their local hero.
"We've been watching all the other celebrations [on television], it's rather nice to be part of this one," said Shirley Engle, a housewife from McClean. She said she didn't realizeuntil yesterday that Kalp lived nearby. "We saw it in the paper this morning," she said. "We just had to join in. It's too exciting to miss."
In Culpeper, about 75 miles south of Washington, ex-hostage Ward, his wife Connie and their 9-year-old son Scott rode down Main Street in a green cadillac convertible as more than 3,000 people cheered and waved American flags and yellow ribbons. "Welcome home Phillip. We're proud of you," said one sign.
Later, on the steps of the Culpeper courthouse, local officials presented Ward with a plaque, a medal and a basket of fruit.Ward, a 40 year-old telecommunications specialist, smiled, waved to the crowd and gave the thumbs up salute with his hand. Ward whose family has declined to talk publicly throughout the ordeal, left the ceremony without making a public statement.
"It would have been nice if he said something to all of us, but I guess he wanted to get back home," said Culpeper resident Gaylord Greene.
"It's nice to be back with friends and to see smiling faces again," Ward told reporters after the ceremony. "I owe these people a lot."
Back in Fairfax, Kalp, standing on the front steps outside his townhouse, spoke in glowing terms of what he calledthe "overwhelming" outpouring of patriotism and unity now alive in the country.
"Believe me," he said. "I'd do it again just to see this, really."
Kalp, 43, also praised the eight American servicemen who were killed in the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the hostages last spring. "They're the real heroes of this whole ordeal," he said.
Kalp, whom the Iranian militants accused of being a spy, told reporters yesterday that he had refused to cooperate with his captors to the very end and suffered for it. He spent 374 days in solitary confinement, was moved to 22 locations and was kicked and punched after he made three attempts to escape. "What helped me was love of country, love of God and faith," he said.
Yesterday afternoon, Kalp and his wife Cheryl traveled to George Mason University, a short distance from their home, and received a standing ovation when they were introduced to more than 100 Virginia legislators and top state officials who were on a tour of Northern Virginia.
Kalp, who rode in the New York City ticker tape parade that attracted two million people Friday, said the Manhattan event may have been bigger but that did not diminish the spirit of his Fairfax City welcome. "It's the same all over," he said. "It's something that's been missing for many, many years.