Hostage drama: love and change for Sgt. Subic

This, if a little unorthodox, is an engagement announcement: Sgt. Joseph Subic Jr. -- American Embassy hostage -- wants to get married. His british girlfriend, with a discreet assist from Tehran diplomats, has said "yes."

Yet for Staff Sergeant Subic -- the young highschool dropout from Ohio who has become Iran's star television "witness" against Washington -- love is not the only thing that has seeped past the chained embassy gate.

There is also confusion, his friends here point out, and depression, and perhaps terror.

Amid Red Cross reports that all the American hostages are fine, the story of Joe Subic seems a reminder that "fine" can be a rubbery word. Nearly six months of captivity, isolated from all news of efforts to end the ordeal, cannot help but have an impact on those detained.

Joe Subic, says a friend who has watched him in three successive television productions by the embassy captors, "looks all messed up."

He is not physically mistreated. Nor is he counted among the several captives still reportedly kept in isolation, a state described by a journalist confined for 17 days in an East European jail as "terrifying" no matter how "comfortable" the conditions.

Staff Sergeant Subic presumably gets along well with the Muslim students who stormed the embassy last Nov. 4. He has, after all, taken to Iranian television in support of their allegations against the United States.

He also is said to have spruced up the former embassy office that, with mattresses on the floor, now serves as "home." He reportedly has posted a photograph of the young English woman he plans to make his wife.

As informed Iranian sources tell it, Sergeant Subic had dated the former British Embassy secretary before the hostage drama began. In the weeks afterward, she was returned home in a gradual evacuation of some Western embassy staff. He wrote asking for her hand in marriage, a note the student militants duly mailed to the British Embassy.

The embassy passed the message back home. The answer -- "yes" -- was relayed to the students and then to an anxious American hostage. Though the Britons declined to comment, other Western diplomats confirmed the account.

So in a sense, Sgt. Joseph Subic Jr. of Bowling Green, Ohio, is just fine.

Yet if and when Washington and Tehran manage to find a peaceful exit from the hostage showdown, one young British girl may not recognize the man she is going to marry.

The Joe Subic who arrived in Tehran last summer, only months before the embassy was stormed, was a Midwestern boy who had left school to join the Army. He had been an Army ranger, friends in the diplomatic community say. He was tough, self-assured, outgoing.

By the time several hundred Iranian militants poured over the walls of the sprawling 26-acre compound, the staff sergeant had begun to settle down to embassy routine.

"He was not a senior officer, but he had what I'd call a responsible position in the military attache's office," one European colleague says.

In leisure hours, "he was kind of the social director," says another friend. "He would arrange dances and things like that. . . . I think that's how he met his girlfriend."

By Christmas, after some two months in captivity, Sgt. Joseph Subic remained pretty much teh same young Joe. Filmed by Iranian television in holiday services, "he looked reasonably in control, confident, like Joe," said a friend whos saw the film and talked to the visiting American clergymen.

By Easter, when the militants turned a further round of religious services into something of a television extravaganza, this same friend said, "Subic looked bad. I'm worried."

Days later, he got a possible hint of why. Iranian television aired a one-man expose by Sergeant Subic of alleged American "espionage" activity -- from radio monitoring to aerial photography and purported payoffs to an Iranian diplomat in Washington, according to a Persian-language transcript.

Made about a month earlier in two sessions, the show was introduced as a "shocking" revelation by "two" American hostages.

The film, say friends who saw it, shoed only Staff Sgt. Joseph Subic.

Or two Joseph Suics: In one segment, looking something like his old bespectacled and animated self, Sergeant Subic is shown peeling abck carpet, poking into a ceiling, and detailing what he described as radio and computer "monitoring" from an embassy supply building.

Pointing to a small junction box, he siad it was linked to the National Security Agency in Washington. "This," he said in clear English, pointing out another, "is CIA."

And there was the other Joseph Subic. No. glasses. Sluggish, almost zombie-like. Seated at an embassy desk, he described what a Persian-language narrative termed "esipionage" by a small executive airplane.

Sergeant Subic also named embassy colleagues in his narrative. But the often intrusive Persian soundtrack made it difficult to catch the exact nature of his "espionage" allegation, or the context in which the other Americans had been mentioned.

For some diplomats, the "turning" of Joseph Subic -- who, before the filmed "expose," purportedly had written to US newspapers in support of Iran's demands for the return of the deposed Shah -- now seemed complete.

But they promptly added an understanding word about the pressure Sergeant Subic may well have faced.

Some Iranian analysts, on the other hand, argue that Sergeant Subic could simply have decided the militants' demand for the Shah made sense. Despite Western skepticism, the allegations of "espionage" may have substance, and the captive Sergeant Subic may have decided it was right to support them.

But for friends of the hostage youth and for many diplomats, that guessing game is beside the point.

They remember the eerie picture of a once-feisty Army kid delivering a monotonus, faraway narrative from an embassy desk.

"It was like a different person," one friend says. "One course, he said what he did. But I'm sorry mostly for him. I really feel for him."

Joe Subic seems in good health. So, to hear recent embassy visitors tell it, are the other Americans. The student militants will let them go if someone simply returns their hated Shah. President Carter is trying to come to other terms.

Joseph Subic, meanwhile, is a hostage.

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