For the families of the six remaining American hostages in Lebanon, life has been a series of emotional ups and downs--ranging from hopes for freedom during the TWA hijacking crisis in June to fears, raised by letters from their loved ones, that the prisoners would be killed.
Now, the release of the Rev. Benjamin Weir, who had been held hostage for 16 months, has again buoyed the hopes of some. But others said Wednesday that they are afraid to expect too much.
Recalling “positive signals that turned out to be negative,” Judy Blouin, sister of Terry A. Anderson, Associated Press bureau manager in Beirut who was kidnaped in March, said life has become “a constant roller coaster.”
In an interview from her home in Batavia, N.Y., she added: “We have to be rational and not allow ourselves to be overly optimistic. I have to be cautious for my own sanity.”
But in Joliet, Ill., Mae Mihelich, sister of Father Lawrence Jenco, another hostage, was still hopeful. “If you don’t have faith,” she said, “you’re defeating the purpose.”
The relatives of several hostages expressed anger at what they called U.S. government inaction over the hostages’ release, and they painted a picture of relatives held together by love and tragedy.
Regular meetings to plan strategy are common, and some families have launched speaking tours to generate attention for their relatives, who they once felt were ignored. Family members on Wednesday detailed letters to and from the hostages, including one from Jenco, who appealed for a change in U.S. policy to prevent his being hanged by his captors.
Mihelich said her family had received two letters from Jenco, the director of operations of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon, who was abducted in January. In one letter received April 26, she noted, Jenco “said the government should do more or they would be hanged.”
She said she and other family members wrote to Jenco about ordinary events at home, such as vacations, a new garage and children in school. The State Department had urged them “not to say anything that would put pressure on his captors,” she reported.
Not everyone was pleased by the letter writing, however. A relative of one hostage angrily asked U.S. officials, “If you can get a message to him, why can’t you get him released?”
In Aptos, Calif., Rose Kilburn, who is married to the nephew of hostage Peter Kilburn, said that during Ramadan, the monthlong Muslim holiday that began May 21, the State Department requested that the family ask their church leaders “to appeal to Islamic mercy to release these people in the tradition of Islam.”
‘Upset, Started Crying’
She said she did her best in a letter, but the lateness of the request made it “a real last-minute thing.” Recalling the release June 30 of the 39 hostages from TWA Flight 847, she said she became “really upset and started crying that Peter wasn’t released.”
Now, she said, she sees hope in Weir’s freedom because “he’s one of the same group” as Kilburn, a librarian for the American University of Beirut who was taken captive last December.
Also still being held are William Buckley, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy, kidnaped in March, 1984; Thomas Sutherland, acting dean of agriculture at American University, abducted last June, and David P. Jacobsen, of Huntington Beach, Calif., administrator of the university hospital, who was seized in May. Last February, another hostage, Jeremy Levin, a correspondent for Cable News Network, was freed in Syria after nearly a year’s captivity.
Weir has scheduled a news conference and meeting with hostage families in Washington today. Families of the remaining hostages spoke anxiously of that meeting and of one scheduled Friday with Vice President George Bush.
As part of their efforts to speed the release of their relatives, Blouin said the families will urge Congress to send a delegation to meet with Syrian President Hafez Assad, who played a key role in the TWA hostages’ release.
Amid such plans, even Blouin, intentionally cautious, allowed herself to think about a possible homecoming for her brother. “My sister says she’s going to nail his feet to the floor,” she said. “But me, I’m going to have a bonfire to announce his freedom.”