BAHRAIN, AUG. 18 -- His name is Steve Diemler, and he's one of these Americans you've read about -- these escapees who arrive in dust-covered convoys at border posts in the Saudi Arabian desert, who embrace their nomadic Bedouin guides, doff their Arab disguises, and then kiss the hoods of their jeeps or bear-hug Saudi soldiers they've never met. They're out of Kuwait. They're going home.

Diemler is 35 years old, a father of three and a 10-year employee of ITT in Kuwait City. His wife and children are in Missouri, where they went for summer vacation in June. He called them when he reached a phone at a Saudi hotel, hours after he crossed the border. "They were very emotional," he said, his own eyes welling.

Washington still is reluctant to call them hostages, but as they stumble into hotel rooms here to shower and telephone relatives and book themselves on the first available flights, they show the same hot emotions that poured forth after hostage dramas in Iran and Lebanon. They're angry at reporters who might try to exploit them. They're sometimes bitter toward their own government for failing to do enough. They're worried about the ones they left behind. They're tearful and exhausted.

They want beer.

For Diemler, the turning point came last Thursday night when the Iraqi government ordered all Americans in Kuwait to gather at a downtown Kuwait City hotel. Until then, he said, things had been moving along all right. The Americans trapped in the city stayed in touch with each other by phone, and Kuwaitis who could move in the streets with relative ease made sure those in need had food and medicine.

The looting and shooting was mostly confined to downtown Kuwait City during the first two days after the invasion on Aug. 2, Diemler said. After that, the Iraqis pretty much left the Americans alone.

Diemler was one of a few dozen "wardens" named by the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait to communicate with U.S. citizens during the crisis. There were about 25 families on his list, and he spoke with them regularly, absorbing their barrage of questions and relaying information and advice from the embassy.

When the Iraqi order for Americans to assemble in designated hotels was announced, Diemler said, morale among the Americans sharply deteriorated. Everybody he talked to agreed about one thing: They weren't going to follow the order except at gunpoint. A number of Americans he talked to started making preparations to go underground, to disappear as best as a light-skinned Westerner can in a tiny country occupied by more than 150,000 Iraqi troops.

"Everybody was very nervous. We all agreed it was just an intermediate step on the way to Baghdad," Diemler said. "The {Americans} I talked to were really undecided as to what they should do if the Iraqis really pressed. Nobody I talked to thought it was a good idea to go with them."

Diemler decided it was time to make a run across the desert. Earlier, he'd figured the risks outweighed the chances for success. All of the Westerners trapped in Kuwait had been chilled by the news last week that a British man attempting to escape had been shot dead by Iraqi soldiers, he said. Others who tried to make the run had been fired upon. The U.S. government, through Voice of America broadcasts, was officially advising against an escape attempt -- although Diemler thought the message was ambiguous, since it included an acknowldgement that some Americans had made it out.

While talking to the Americans on his list Thursday, Diemler encountered one woman who knew of a convoy of Indians, Kuwaitis and British expatriates who were planning to run for it. The woman "said she was either going underground or she was going to go with them in the convoy. We talked and we just kind of decided to go for it."

Diemler got a place in the convoy because the Indian family -- a father, his eight months-pregnant wife and their 6-year-old daughter -- needed somebody to drive their jeep. Diemler jumped at the chance.

"I think there were a lot of Americans who wanted to escape, but the problem was finding the Bedouin guides," said Diemler, referring to nomadic Arabs who ply the barren tracts of the Arabian peninsula. "We had heard that you just drive into the desert and you could find Bedouins, but nobody wanted to take that chance. That's the biggest problem with more Americans trying to get out -- they don't know how to make contact with these people."

Other Westerners who have escaped with the help of Bedouins said their guides charged roughly $100 per person, a relative bargain given the hazards involved. The Bedouin who met Diemler's convoy and agreed to guide them 100 miles through Iraqi tanks and troop trucks wanted nothing, according to Diemler. The Bedouin said only, "You help me when I come to the United States," according to Diemler.

Disguised in traditional Arab dress, Diemler and his companions piled into a four-wheel-drive Suzuki and headed out of Kuwait City, initially on a paved road. The first time they turned off into the desert, an Iraqi military vehicle spotted them and maneuvered to block their path. The soldiers didn't fire, but they got out with guns and waved at Diemler's convoy to turn around.

But the Bedouin with Diemler's group was undeterred. He led them back to the main road, down a bit further, then into the desert again.

For two hours Diemler drove at breakneck speed toward the Saudi border, past scores of Iraqi troops and vehicles. Where the bare ground was hard and packed, the convoy reached 75 miles an hour. Where the sand was soft and deep, they slowed and tried to keep the engines revving to avoid getting stuck. In one patch of dunes, a jeep in the convoy got stuck in the sand and the rest of them had to stop. They sat in full view of Iraqi soldiers for 45 minutes while their Bedouin guide and one or two others rocked the trapped vehicle out of its rut. The Iraqi soldiers didn't bother them.

While driving, Diemler said, he kept looking for a Saudi flag, the only certain sign that they'd reached the border.

"Finally, there it was."

After the formalities at the border post, which included a bit more bureaucratic paperwork than an exhausted war refugee might have expected, they drove down the big superhighway along the Persian Gulf coast, through the fields where half the world's known oil reserves are situated. At a hotel they phoned home and ate a meal, then turned onto the 14-mile bridge that links Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, arriving at their hotel at 2 o'clock Saturday morning, 15 hours after they set out.

Like many of the Kuwaitis, South Asians and Westerners who have escaped here from occupied Kuwait, Diemler said he is primarily concerned about the plight of the hundreds of Americans he left behind. The official count is about 2,500, based on the number of visa holders in Kuwait at the time of the invasion. But Diemler and others said they guessed the actual number was much lower because many Westerners, along with wealthy Kuwaitis, were out of the country on summer vacations at the time of the invasion.

What do the Americans in Kuwait want? "My general impression is they're waiting for someone to rescue them," Diemler said. "They're waiting for the cavalry. They want it to happen. The big fear among the Americans was that {the U.S. government is} going to wait until it's too late. After the announcement about going to the hotels, there was the general feeling, 'Surely they're not going to let this happen.' "

Diemler said that while some Americans were definitely worried about what would happen to them if U.S. and Arab forces initiated an attack against Iraqi troops, his own opinion was that the time had come to fight.

"I would like to see military action against Iraq to take Kuwait back before the Iraqis have a chance to gather up American citizens and use them as hostages," he said. "From the {Iraqi} troops I saw and their general lack of discipline and motivation, I think U.S. and combined forces could take back Kuwait just about as quickly as Iraq took Kuwait."

Diemler added that he was reluctant to criticize the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait but that a large number of Americans felt somewhat angry that embassy officials had waited until after the Iraqi troops were virtually in Kuwait City on Aug. 2 to warn citizens that an invasion was imminent. Afterwards, the Americans trapped in the city heard reports in which U.S. intelligence officials virtually bragged that they knew in advance that the Iraqi invasion was coming.

"Had they let us know, a lot of people would have gotten out," Diemler said.