Hostages on TV: smiles, despair, warmth, and bitterness

By , Staff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

We clergymen, said one of the visiting ministers at the captive US Embassy, talk in terms of hope. "Being a marine, sir," came the poignant reply from a young hostage, "I just take it as it comes."

So, apparently, do some of his 49 fellow embassy prisoners -- at least those shown in a picture of warmth, occasional smiles, despair, or bitterness in a special program broadcast April 8 on Iranian state television.

Following complex negotiations, originally involving a total figure of $75, 000 for a 50-minute film, the three main American networks bought a 24-minute segment of film for a total of $36,000. The money goes to Iranian television which edited the film before giving it to the American networks. It was not immediately clear why the networks had opted out of the longer film which showed a larger number of hostages.

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"Can we do anything for you? Do you need anything?" the various clergymen asked a number of hostages on the longer, but nonetheless edited, version aired with a Persian language narration in Tehran.

"We need to get out of here. That's what we need," replied one of the captives held since the embassy was stormed by militant Muslim students last Nov. 4.

"We could use a little more fresh air. Don't get enough of that," replied another captive. The services were held indoors, witnessed by as many as a dozen of the students in rooms adorned with anti-American posters.

"We don't need prayer, we need action," responded Robert Ode who, in his sixties, is the oldest of the hostages. Mr. Ode had arrived in Tehran, called back from retirement, only a month before the embassy attack.

A fruit selection offered by the visitors prompted Barry Rosen, the embassy press attache, to remark; "I haven't seen an apple since Christmas." Despite the complaints -- one hostage indicated he'd been able to talk with a fellow hostage only in the last month -- all those shown on the Tehran film looked in adequate health. None reported specific instances of mistreatment.

There were smiles, even occasional laughter during banter with the visiting Americans. "I'm just happy to see Americans, that's all," remarked Charles Jones, the only remaining black hostage.

"We are comfortable, in that we are not abused," said William Keough, Jr., a former superintendent of the Tehran-American school who is a captive because he happened to be back in Iran Nov. 4 to collect some school records from the US mission. "But we are uncomfortable in that we are deprived of our freedom."

Another, unidentified hostage gave a bleaker, if nonspecific picture: "We are being treated," he appeared to say beneath the Persian narration, "as we prefer not be treated."

And there were unanswered questions.

None of the several hostages who have been publicly accused of spying by their captors was shown on the film. It appeared that none of them were encountered by the visiting American ministers.

The ministers say they saw a total of 31 captives. The film showed about two dozen. Although the sound of the Persian narration obscured the English spoken and prevented clear identification of all the hostages shown on the film, 19 either gave their names audibly or could be identified by sight.

Other names have been divulged by the clerics to reporters. The following is an alphabetical list of 32 hostages known to have been seen by at least one of the visiting clergymen, and apparently suffering from no serious physical ill (embassy positions included where available):

Robert Blucker (economic officer), Navy Lt. Commander Robert Engelmann, Marine Corporal William Gallegos (embassy guard), Bruce German (budget officer), John Graves (public affairs officer), Joseph Hall (Military staff member), Marine Sgt. Kevin Hermening (Embassy Guard), Sgt. Donald Hohman.

Charles Jones (teletype operator), Moorhead Kennedy (Economics Officer), William Keough Jr. (visiting school superintendent), Kathryn Koob (Director of Iran-American Society), Frederick Kupke (communications worker), Steven Lauterbach (maintenance man), Gary Lee, Marine Sgt. Paul Lewis (Embassy Guard).

John Limbert Jr. (political officer), Marine Sgt. John McKeel (embassy guard) , Bert Moore, Air Force Captain Paul Needham, Robert Ode (Consul), Marine Sgt. Gregory Persinger (embassy guard), Jerry Plotkin (visiting businessman), Richard Queen (Vice Consul), Lt. Col. David Roeder (assistant military attache).

Barry Rosen (press attache), Col. Thomas Schaffer (military attache), Col. Charles Scott, Don Sharer, Marine Sgt. Rodney Sickmann, Sgt. Joseph Subic Jr. (military staff member), Ann Swift (political officer).

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