Malcolm K. Kalp took leave from his job at the State Department last week to visit the Tufts University Dental School, where doctors fitted his teeth with caps in an attempt to stop the ringing he's heard in his ears ever since Iran released him from captivity a year ago today.
"I took several kicks in the head on three different occasions in Iran, that's why I have the ringing in my ears," Kalp said. "I had hoped the people at Tufts could stop it, but it didn't take. My ears are still ringing."
Like many of the 52 Americans who today celebrate the first anniversary of their freedom from captivity in Iran, Kalp, 43, still suffers the scars of 444 days' imprisonment. Like the ringing in Kalp's ears, few of the scars are visible.
At least four former hostages are in psychiatric treatment. Four are divorced or getting divorced, three are separated and four are struggling with troubled marriages. One is so bitter that he shuns friends and snaps at strangers who want to talk to him about his captivity.
"I think some of the things that happened to us were inevitable," said Bruce L. Laingen, the top-ranking diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Iran at the time of the takeover. "Some of us had very unpleasant experiences that I wouldn't short-change in any way."
The hostages describe their year since their release with the most mixed of emotions. They suffer unresolved feelings of anger and abandonment. They're fidgety, they live a day at a time, they have nightmares about their imprisonment, they jump at noises.
"There are as many as two dozen cases of psychosomatic illness among the hostages," said Dr. Steven Pieczenik, a former State Department psychiatrist who is an authority on hostage psychology. "Stomach problems, skin rashes, headaches, insomnia, phobias, all the classic psychosomatic illnesses."
A move is afoot to pay the hostages for their discomforts. The President's Commission on Hostage Compensation recommended that the United States pay all their medical expenses, plus $12.50 a day for each day they were kept hostage, the same benefits American prisoners of war in Vietnam received. A few hostages called the $12.50 a "token" benefit. A few also said they should get no benefits, but most agreed with the recommendation.
"There were some Vietnam veterans who said that if they gave us anything it would be a slap in the face to every Vietnam vet. Well, I think that's baloney," said Army Col. Leland Holland, who was a hostage. "I've been to Vietnam twice, and POWs who were subject to harsh treatment were compensated. We went to Iran, we were subjected to harsh treatment and we should be compensated."
Michael Howland said he remembers that he was allowed outside his cell once to jog. John Limbert said he remembers being alone in his cell for so long he was convinced the other 51 hostages were dead. Richard Morefield was taken to a basement room in the embassy, blindfolded and told he was going to be shot as he heard the firing of guns behind his back.
That was the first mock execution Morefield suffered through. Twice after that he was lined up against a wall before a firing squad of Iranians, who loaded and aimed their guns at him before leading him back to his cell.
"The Mailman," the Iranian captor who delivered the hostages' mail, once told Moorhead Kennedy why there hadn't been any mail from home.
"He said, 'The CIA is cutting off your mail, that's why you're not getting any mail,' " Kennedy recalled from his home in New York the other day. "When I asked him why, the Mailman replied, 'Because they want to drive you crazy and then blame us.' "
In their 14 months of captivity the hostages were kept on separate floors, in separate rooms, separate buildings and even separate cities. Four were kept in a rambling private home 200 miles south of Tehran before being moved to cells in a dungeon in Iran, never knowing whether their fellow hostages were alive behind the embassy walls.
Those in the embassy went weeks without seeing or hearing each other. The three senior diplomats, Laingen, Victor L. Tomseth and Howland, kept in the foreign ministry never knew the others were well until they were moved into the embassy a month before their release.
Whatever they went through during their tortured months in Iran, most of the hostages are at peace with themselves today. One is still angry. He is John Graves, a foreign service officer who cannot get the State Department to authorize the angry book he wrote about his hostage experience. Graves hangs up on most reporters.
His ex-hostage colleagues say that a part of his anger stems from his dual citizenship, French and American. His mother was French-Canadian and his father French. Graves comes by his U.S. citizenship by being born in the United States.
"John could not identify with the United States the way the rest of us could," said one hostage who asked not to be identified. "For awhile, he thought the French were going to get him out of Iran, and when they didn't do it he became very angry. He's still really quite upset about the whole thing."
One thing still rankles some of the State Department employes about their treatment back in the United States: they get the feeling they're being offered sinecures, as if they can no longer be trusted with serious, responsible jobs, as if they are somehow blemished by their hostage experience.
"A close friend of mine in the department told me I should expect to encounter guilt and even a little jealousy at the State Department when I came back," Moorhead Kennedy told The Washington Post. "He said, 'Mike, they'll never forgive you for having been a hostage.' "
Looking back on their experiences, most hostages say they remember the good things, especially in finding how supportive Americans were of their predicament while they were captive. John Limbert said he remembers listening to radio tapes of newscasts made in the early days of the hostage crisis.
"My favorite tape was of a New York longshoreman who was refusing to handle Iranian cargo," Limbert said. "He was asked what kind of cargo he was stopping, and he replied, 'Well, there's military and oil refinery cargo.' What else, he was asked. He said, 'Well, this Khomeini guy has put the veils back on women, and we've stopped all the veils.'
"I felt wonderful," Limbert said on hearing that tape. "I still feel good when I remember the sound of that voice."
Bruce Laingen remembers the time of his release a little differently: "The experience was a catharsis for our guilt trips on Vietnam and Watergate. We began once again to think well of ourselves. The way 72 Americans came out of it and the way 240 million Americans united to get them out of it."
There is perhaps one footnote to the days of the hostages. Intelligence reports that persistently reach the United States from Iran say that many of the Iranians who kept the U.S. Embassy hostage marched off as a unit to the war with Iraq after the hostages were released.
These same reports, which have reached the ears of at least two of the former hostages, say the former guards were wiped out at the front after their radios failed and they could not hear a warning that they were about to be surrounded by Iraqi soldiers.