Some Grow Impatient : Hostages’ Kin: Tears, Relief at Sound of Voices
After suffering through a week of fear and uncertainty over the hijacking of TWA Flight 847, friends and family members of the five hostages who appeared Thursday at a chaotic Beirut news conference shed tears and expressed relief at the sound of their loved ones’ voices.
“It was very emotional for members of his family, hearing his voice for the first time,” said the Rev. Scott Smith, the family minister of hostage Allyn B. Conwell, who acted as spokesman for the hostages. “All we could think of was what he must be doing, where he is--and that he’s OK.”
Javier Santos, brother-in-law of Vincente Garza, who is held hostage along with his son-in-law, Robert Trautmann, said: “It was a great relief to hear his (Garza’s) name, no two ways about it.”
Feelings of Relief
Similarly, Marianne Robertson, the oldest daughter of hostage Thomas M. Murry of Newbury Park, Calif., said: “When Mr. Conwell read the names and my dad’s was among them, you could feel the relief in the room--just to know he wasn’t shackled and held in a dungeon somewhere.”
But some of those close to other hostages began to show signs of impatience that the United States has not yet secured their release.
Peter Woodside, a friend and business associate of Thomas V.S. Cullins, who was also present at the Beirut news conference, said he was “elated” to hear Cullins’ voice. At the same time, he said he was “pretty angry” over President Reagan’s continued refusal to make concessions to the terrorists.
“I understand why he is saying it--I just wish he wouldn’t say it so often,” Woodside said. “He’s trying to play John Wayne. I wish he’d just be quiet and do something instead.”
The State Department, familiar with the roller-coaster emotions that rack families during such an ordeal, has established a special task force, operating on a 24-hour-a-day basis, to maintain communication with the hostages’ families. It is an apparatus shaped by lessons learned during the Iranian hostage crisis nearly five years ago, according to James Callahan, a spokesman for the department’s bureau of consular affairs.
At least three people staff the telephones for eight-hour shifts and call the families periodically throughout the day, he said. In addition, they take calls from family members who want to talk.
“People call us upset because not enough is happening,” Callahan said. “We got a lot of calls after the President’s press conference--people feeling that his position of not negotiating was too strong.”
He added: “The families can’t express their anger at the hostage takers, so we can frequently be the targets. That’s why we’re here. I worked a midnight shift earlier this week. I got somebody very upset about our policies of not negotiating. You’re caught. I was trying to think of something to say without sounding callous and bureaucratic.”
Most of the families who were reached either expressed confidence in what the Administration is doing to free their relatives or said they were reluctant to discuss U.S. policy. A few, however, were willing to speak of their continuing frustration.
‘Walking a Tightrope’
“We don’t want to interfere with what the government is doing, but we are not willing to sacrifice these people,” said Susan Traugott, sister-in-law of hostage Ralph W. Traugott. “We are walking a real tightrope here.”
She continued: “Terrorists believe so fervently in their cause that I do not believe that if you sacrifice the lives of innocent people they will say: ‘OK. Terrorism doesn’t work. So what should we do next, guys?’ ”
Donna Jill Brown, wife of hostage Robert Brown of Boston, agreed and said the United States should ask Israel to release the 766 prisoners, mainly Shia Muslims, detained during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon. Release of the prisoners is the terrorists’ key demand.
“Let’s stop playing games,” she said. “How much more plain can it be, for God’s sake?”
But Linda Amburgy of Langlade, Wis., the younger sister of hostage Victor Amburgy, seemed to sum up the overall tone of the continuing vigil when she said: “We trust God and feel He’s going to come through for us. We believe (Amburgy) will be coming home to us. It’s just a matter of when.”