Families of ‘Forgotten 7' Bitter Over U.S. Promises
Their families call them “the forgotten seven,” and Saturday, seven Americans who have been held hostage in Lebanon for as long as 16 months by radical Muslims were again forgotten.
To the dismay of their relatives, none of the seven were among hostages taken to a Beirut school for transfer to Syria.
“I feel betrayed,” Mae Mihelich said in the living room of her modest home here shortly after daybreak Saturday, when it was clear that her brother, Father Lawrence Jenco, 50, a Catholic priest, was not among the American hostages assembled to be moved to Syria. Jenco, head of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon, was grabbed off the street by gunmen last January--fulfilling his worst fears.
Only last Friday, President Reagan reportedly told a private assembly of families of Chicago area hostages that Jenco and the other six would be released with the 39 passengers and crew of TWA Flight 847.
“I asked the question, and he (the President) said, ‘Yes, that all Americans would be freed--all 46,”’ she added. “I don’t think he was being entirely honest.”
‘Hostages Means TWA 39'
“When people say ‘hostages’ they automatically think of the TWA 39, forgetting there’s an American diplomat who’s been (hostage) for 16 months,” said John Weir, son of the Rev. Benjamin Weir, 61 a Presbyterian minister and California native kidnaped May 8, 1984. “We’re worried that when the TWA hostages land at Andrews Air Force Base, everybody’s going to think the crisis is over.”
In addition to Jenco and Weir, the other missing Americans are:
--Terry A. Anderson, 33, chief Middle East correspondent and Beirut bureau manager for the Associated Press, who was kidnaped March 16.
--William Buckley, 56, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy who was kidnaped March 18, 1984, and has been held the longest.
--David P. Jacobsen, 54, of Huntington Beach, Calif., administrator of the American University Hospital, Lebanon’s largest medical facility. He was kidnaped May 28.
--Peter Kilburn, 60, a librarian at the American University, he disappeared Dec. 3, 1984, and is believed to be held hostage although no group has ever claimed responsibility for kidnaping him.
--Thomas Sutherland, 54, dean of the American University’s agriculture department, who was kidnaped on June 9.
If the hostages have been forgotten, the families say have often been ignored or patronized.
Consider the experiences of Father Jenco’s relatives.
The State Department first informed them of his abduction more than 24 hours after they heard about it on television. On a March trip to Washington to talk about what might be done to win freedom for the priest, the family was treated to a fancy lunch in the State Department’s posh 8th-floor dining room but given little information.
“They tried to make the first day like a tour,” said Joseph Jenco, a brother of the priest. “We told them we were out there for business, not a vacation.”
“We were so disappointed at the State Department, but we expected more when we went to the papal nuncio (the Vatican ambassador),” added nephew Andrew Mihelich. “He told us to take off our buttons (calling for Jenco’s release) and to go home and pursue quiet diplomacy.”
“The Red Cross refused to help, too, but they’ve helped the 39,” said Joseph Jenco. The family said they called to see if the agency would visit the priest and determine if he was healthy or deliver mail to him and that the agency refused.
“My gut feeling is that the only reason the Administration even mentioned the seven who were kidnaped and talked about their release is to appease us, to keep us off their backs,” said Ann Weir of Santa Barbara, one of the minister’s daughters.
Indeed, the TWA incident catapulted the seven into the spotlight. Shortly after the plane was hijacked, the Administration said it considered the seven separate from the airplane passengers and crew. That position changed last week, fueling new hope among relatives of the seven.
Jean Sutherland said it was “wonderful to be included . . . our American dream,” adding that “it will be too bad if it develops into an emotional wrangle over who comes home and who doesn’t.”
Meanwhile, Paul Mihelich, another Jenco nephew, continued his daily task of changing the number at the bottom of the big billboard erected on the family’s front lawn. It read “Fr. . . Jenco, American Held Hostage in Lebanon Day 173.”