CHERRY HILL, N.J., MARCH 5 -- After his A-6 Intruder was shot out of the sky and he awoke behind enemy lines, Navy Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun began crawling in the Iraqi sand, searching for his pilot.
"He came out of the plane rather fast," said his father, Calvin Zaun, who today offered the first details of the captivity and treatment of American POWs. "When he woke up, he was on the sand. He was hurt. He had passed out."
Lt. Zaun, battered and bruised by his tumble from the sky, found Lt. Robert Wetzel lying in pain nearby. "Wetzel's arm was broken, and he was injured in a couple places," the elder Zaun said, relaying the account his son gave in a 40-minute telephone call from a hospital ship in the Persian Gulf.
After Iraqi soldiers captured the two airmen, whose plane had been hit by antiaircraft fire in the first 36 hours of the Persian Gulf War, Zaun was blindfolded and drugged, he told his father. It was only when he was turned over to the Red Cross on Monday that Zaun learned the war was over.
Wetzel, his arm in a sling, was released today, a day after Zaun, 28, boarded a bus in Baghdad to freedom.
"You could tell a lot had happened to him," Calvin Zaun said in a news conference on his front lawn as the family dog, Scoop, ran around the house. "He showed some strain."
Lt. Zaun, whose puffy, cut face was seen across America after Iraqi President Saddam Hussein forced him to denounce coalition forces on Baghdad television, said he had been given morphine.
"I think our leaders and our people have wrongly attacked the peaceful people of Iraq," Zaun, his words stiff, said on Iraqi television. "I fly the A-6 Intruder. My mission was to attack the H3 airfield in southwestern Iraq."
Zaun's forced appearance before the TV cameras outraged many Americans, and coalition leaders denounced it as a war crime in violation of the Geneva Conventions.
For his entire captivity, Zaun was held at a site about a 15-minute drive from Baghdad, where he came dangerously close to being bombed by allied planes. Saddam threatened to use the POWs as "human shields" and said he would confine them at strategic sites.
"He could hear the bombing; he was blindfolded," his father said. "He said it was a long time and he feared for his death. He was very much worried whether he was going to make it."
Zaun said he does not think his son was tortured. But Lt. K.J. Braithwaite, a Navy spokesman, cut him off at that point, saying, "The Navy is investigating that. Jeff was under a lot of duress."
Braithwaite again interrupted Zaun when he began describing the most frightening moments of his son's captivity.
"He said he was scared for his life several times," Zaun said before Braithwaite cut in, saying Lt. Zaun does not want details publicized until the last Kuwaiti POW is released.
Jeffrey Zaun, who lost considerable weight during his imprisonment, is expected to be home in about a week. On Wednesday, the 1984 Annapolis graduate, along with other former POWs, is scheduled to meet with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, Navy officials said.
An ace gymnast who stands just over five feet tall, Zaun told his family that since his release, he has felt literally like jumping for joy.
"He said he could do a back flip right now," said his father, a Korean War veteran who ran down his street at 4 a.m. Monday, telling neighbors that his son had been freed.
In Newark today, Robert Wetzel's family also spoke to their son. Family members said the 30-year-old pilot told them he owes his life to Iraqi doctors who treated his broken arm and collarbone.
Wetzel said that he had surgery in a Baghdad hospital after he parachuted from his burning jet, the Associated Press reported. In a telephone call to his sister, Anne Kohlbecker, of Neptune City, N.J., and his parents, who were visiting her, Wetzel said he prayed "like never before" during his confinement.
Said Kohlbecker, "Old times, old friends, that's what kept him going."