Wives, children, mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers joyfully welcomed the 39 released hostages at the U.S. military hospital here today.
Amid the tears and the choked-up relief from days of anguish, there was even time to joke. Peter Lazansky, 25, a furrier from Tulsa, greeted his father, George Lazansky, free after 17 days of captivity, in a stairwell of the hospital. "He was a few pounds lighter. He had only had an hour's sleep," the younger Lazansky said.
"So I asked him where he'd been for the last few weeks. I told him the lawn hadn't been mowed, so we'd better get going."
Lazansky's wife, Joanne, threw her arms around her husband. "Everyone was crying," Peter said. "There was a lot of hugging and crying."
The three Lazanskys walked the grounds of the hospital together, silent at times, chatting at other times. George, an Algonquin, Ill. banker, gave his son a T-shirt, a memento from Beirut. Joanne joined her husband and several other families for a steak dinner tonight at the hospital. It was a day of exhaustion and a day of exhilaration, according to many of the more than 50 relatives who arrived here with little sleep and high hopes after days of uncertainty.
"Oh, man, it is really neat to see him," said Rodney Amburgy, as he walked into the Nassauer Hof Hotel here, his arm around his brother Victor. Victor, a San Francisco mailman, had been traveling around the world with a friend, restaurateur John McCarty, when both were taken hostage. Rodney, a snippet of yellow ribbon pinned to his pocket, said the family in White Lake, Wis., was planning a big "hootenany" to welcome Victor home.
Many of the hostages and their families, weary of dissecting their emotions for the press, curtly fended off dozens of television cameras as they walked into the hotel. Others, resigned to the onslaught, agreed to be interviewed.
The night before, on TWA flight 742, 23 family members had celebrated with steak and champagne and, now that the hostages were at last free, spoke willingly of what several called the "roller-coaster" emotions of the past two weeks.
"It was better not to watch TV," said Marsha Willett of Thibodeaux, La., on her way to meet her husband, Steve. "You'd get up when you heard good things, then everything would be shot down. I lost my appetite. I lost eight pounds in two weeks."
The Willetts and their two sons, aged 17 and 9, were on vacation when the TWA flight they were on was hijacked. Mrs. Willett and the two boys were released in Algeria. "My biggest nightmares were during the day," she said. "You remembered everything, although you tried to push it out of your mind: the hijackers running to the front of the plane; the passengers with their hands in the air; your son walking off the plane with no shoes on his feet."
Carolyn Byron, a Harrisburg, Pa., teacher, was on her way to meet her husband Leo. Mrs. Byron, who had also been taken hostage, but had been released along with their 13-year-old daughter, said she had "never doubted" that her husband would be released. But the experience, she said, made her "more introspective.
"You tend to get wrapped up in the car pool and the PTA," she said. "Your life almost runs itself. But this makes you stop and say things can happen over which you have no control. You really have to stop and think about that."
Nearby, Marguerite McCarty, 62, fingered her silver rosary beads and a small booklet titled "Rosary Novenas to Our Lady."
"I think the hand of God is in all this," she said. "Thousands of people were praying for us. Everybody stormed heaven and He answered."