Former Hostages Worry About Those Left Behind
NEW YORK (AP) _ Former hostages who returned home from Iraq early Tuesday with retired boxing champ Muhammad Ali said their happiness was tempered with concern for those left behind.
″I just wanted to make sure that everybody here realizes that there are hundreds of more Americans and thousands in total of foreigners still there,″ Harry Brill-Edwards, 49, of Fort Lee, N.J., told reporters after arriving at Kennedy Airport.
″Every one of us who is on this plane tonight is only happy to a certain degree. The rest of his heart is sad for the guys who are still there.″
The State Department says about 1,000 Americans are trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, and it believes 88 are being used as ″human shields″ at strategic sites. Iraq released 15 Americans to Ali, including 10 with medical conditions.
A few hours after the hostages’ arrival, a group of Americans boarded the same plane back to Amman, Jordan, in hopes of reunions Wednesday in Baghdad with relatives they are trying to bring home.
Brill-Edwards, chairman of Chromolloy Corp. in Orangeburg, N.Y., was one of six Americans who accompanied Ali directly from Jordan. The nine others were returning to the United States via the Netherlands.
Only Brill-Edwards had family waiting in New York: wife Heidi, sons Christopher, 14, and Philip, 9, and daughter Alexandra, 16, who gave Ali a hug and kiss before leaving.
Former hostage Sergio Coletta of Moss Point, Miss., was greeted by three colleagues from the American Bureau of Shipping, his employer, and when he saw them waiting, he ran into their arms.
Royce ″Red″ Smart, a drilling consultant from Houston, said his ″heart hurts″ for those left behind who were ″just like me, hoping someone would come get them, some way, somehow.″
Richard Iliff, a General Motors executive from Atlanta, said he was ″choked up″ about the close friends he had made in more than 100 days of captivity. ″They’re stuck. I don’t know how they’re going to get out, unless somebody goes out and gets them or Saddam Hussein changes his mind.″
The former hostages said they were not mistreated. They said they were fed regularly, if not always adequately.
″I don’t think I’ll eat tomatoes or cucumbers again for life,″ said Iliff.
The ex-hostages said they were moved several times. Iliff said his shelter during captivity ranged from a trailer to a three-bedroom house. They fought off boredom by playing cars, exercising, taking walks and swapping novels.
As time passed and captors became familiar with the prisoners, conditions improved, but ″a lot depended on the political hassle that went on in the press,″ Brill-Edwards said. ″As things got tough politically, things got tougher in the camps.″
None of the captives knew how they were chosen for freedom. Smart theorized he had been ″picked out of a hat.″ They were given as little as 15 minutes notice that they were being freed.
Ali did not speak during the brief session with reporters, but an attorney, Paul Sanchi, read a statement from Ali that said, ″I’m on the side of Al Islam, which means peace.″
The hostages praised him as a gentleman and a ″super human being.″
The other returning hostages were George Chanchalis of Reno, Nev., and Ralph Leidholdt of Lakewood, Colo.