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Homecoming for a Hostage: Jazz, Prayers

Times Staff Writer

Jimmy Dell Palmer came home Friday.

After 12 days as a hostage in Beirut, and then after enduring the rigors of cameras, lights and reporters in Cyprus and London, Palmer returned to his hometown Friday afternoon to the sound of cheering and Joe Holland’s Good Times Jazz Band.

The timing could not have been better. Palmer and his wife, Sammie--who was also aboard the TWA jet when it was hijacked but was released earlier--will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary today.

Palmer, freed Wednesday because of a heart condition, was obviously overwhelmed when his three sons, as well as other relatives and friends, crowded aboard another TWA jet in Little Rock at the end of his 15-day odyssey.

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Then he went out once again to face the television lights and the banners welcoming him home. Lt. Gov. Winston Bryant was there, declaring Friday as Jim D. Palmer Day.

“We want you to know the people of Arkansas were thinking of you, praying for you, and we are happy you are home,” he said.

When Palmer took the microphone, he fought to hold back tears.

“This is the greatest homecoming anyone could ask for. Thank you so much,” he said.

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Champagne and Sadness

Palmer and his wife, who flew to London to join him for the return trip, first touched down on American soil in St. Louis on Friday, where he emerged carrying an empty champagne bottle. At a brief news conference, he repeated his concern for the 39 other TWA hostages still in Lebanon.

He reiterated that he holds no grudge against Shia Muslim leader Nabih Berri, who is negotiating for the hostages’ release. But he said he could not be sympathetic to the men who began the hijacking two weeks ago.

“I am bitter about it,” he said. “Anytime people take the life of someone else, I cannot be sympathetic.”

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Palmer was referring to the killing of Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem, who was beaten and shot in the head by the original hijackers.


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