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Relatives Meet Jenco in Emotional Reunion, He Describes Captivity

July 28, 1986

WIESBADEN, West Germany (AP) _ The Rev. Lawrence Jenco spent six months in chains in solitary confinement and then shared a small room for a year with other American hostages in Lebanon, he told relatives today in a reunion of hugs, kisses and tears.

The 51-year-old Roman Catholic clergyman was freed Saturday after nearly 19 months in captivity, and 10 of his relatives - three brothers, three sisters, a nephew and three in-laws - flew to West Germany for a joyful reunion.

Jenco, of Joliet, Ill., described his captivity to family members who met him at the U.S. Air Force Hospital in Wiesbaden, where he was flown from Damascus, Syria, where he was taken after being released in east Lebanon.

The priest, speaking in a voice choked with emotion, told reporters from the Wiesbaden hospital balcony: ″I’m not too sure it’s true, it’s a dream come true. It’s great to be back, to be loved again, to be back with the family.″

Jenco also called for the release of the other Americans.

″When Terry Anderson, Thomas Sutherland and David Jacobsen come back again, that will be my great day of joy,″ Jenco said.

″Terry Anderson is one of you,″ Jenco called down to journalists, referring to Anderson’s post as chief Middle East correspondent of The Associated Press. ″Don’t forget Terry Anderson, and David Jacobsen, ... and Tom Sutherland. There are people waiting for them, too.″

Peggy Say, Anderson’s sister, left Syria today after nine days of work trying to win the release of her brother and the other hostages.

″I want the U.S. government to stop tap-dancing around the word ’negotiate,‴ Mrs. Say said in an interview. ″I want them to get out there and do it, like they did for other American hostages.″

John Jenco quoted his brother as saying that the hostages were told three weeks ago they would be let go, but that the release fell through. The brother did not elaborate.

″The last few weeks they were allowed to read periodicals but they never received the letters sent to them,″ John Jenco said.

Islamic Jihad, a group of Shiite Moslems, claimed responsibility for kidnapping five Americans, including Jenco. The group has said it killed U.S. diplomat William Buckley, 58, but no body has been found.

The other missing Americans are Anderson, 38; Sutherland, 55, acting dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut; and Jacobsen, 55, director of the university hospital.

Jenco was abducted Jan. 8, 1985, in Beirut, where he directed Catholic Relief Services operations that served both Christians and Moslems.

The relatives, speaking at a hotel near the hospital, said the reunion was charged with happiness. ″It was a very emotional 10 minutes of hugs, kisses and a lot of tears″ at the beginning of the two-hour reunion, said Andrew Mihelich, a nephew. ″It was a very exciting time for the family.″

The priest told his family about his captivity.

″He was never beaten, he was never brainwashed, he was treated with respect. But in the first several months until July 2, he was chained around his ankle and to the wall, and he had three feet to walk. He did not get too much exercise. He did not see light,″ John Jenco said.

Jenco and three other American hostages were kept together in a small room since July 2, 1985, and spent time reading and joked with their captors, John Jenco said. They did not know where they were being held and were blindfolded when their captors were present.

Relatives quoted Jenco as saying he never saw Buckley.

″The captors said, ‘Is there anything that you would like, Father?’ He and the other hostages would respond, ‘a taxicab,’ ″ Mihelich said.

John Jenco said the captors gave the priest a Bible.

″He continuously read the Psalms, and he sang to himself,″ John Jenco said. ″Then he said the rosary. He said 15 million Our Fathers and Hail Marys. After tiring of that, he finally started taking up exercise.″

The former hostage is ″a very tired and a very fragile man, but he responded quite well considering the ordeal he went through,″ Mihelich said.

The hostages’ diet consisted primarily of rice, cheese, beans, bread and jam, Mihelich quoted his uncle as saying.

One brother told a television reporter that Jenco looked healthier than they expected, and that he told them he was kept in a room with ″steel plates on the doors and windows, no air circulating.″

John Jenco said his brother had only two pairs of undershorts for the entire time he was held hostage, but was allowed to bathe once a day. He was moved seven times.

Joe Jenco, another brother, said the family hopes to meet with Pope John Paul II on Thursday or Friday. The pontiff called Jenco at the hospital Sunday.

Among the items the relatives brought with them from the United States were the priest’s favorite snack, popcorn; clean clothes, and gin for a special martini. John Jenco said his brother’s recipe is ″just straight gin with his apostolic blessing on it.″

Jenco will undergo medical tests in Wiesbaden before returning home to Illinois. His captors said in a statement that they released him because of his deteriorating health.

Hospital administrator Col. Robert Gilmore said initial tests showed Jenco had an ″ongoing heart disease.″

″His overall medical condition is satisfactory, considering his detention ... his age of 51 and the fact he hasn’t slept for three days,″ Gilmore told a news conference Sunday.

Jenco brought a videotaped message from Jacobsen who said he and the other hostages would be killed if the Reagan administration did not negotiate with their captors.

Islamic Jihad demands the release of 17 Shiites imprisoned in Kuwait for the 1983 bombings of the French and U.S. embassies. Kuwait has refused. Islamic Jihad is believed linked to Iran. Kuwait supports Iraq in a 6-year-old war with Iran.

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