Jenco in Chains for 6 Months, Brother Says

Times Staff Writer

Father Lawrence M. Jenco was kept chained in solitary confinement for the first six months of his captivity in Lebanon and was moved to seven different locations by the Muslim terrorists who held him, a brother of the newly freed American priest reported Monday.

As Jenco was reunited with members of his large family at the U.S. Air Force Medical Center here, details of his nearly 19-month ordeal began to emerge, relayed by relatives.

"He was never tortured, never beaten--no brainwashing type of thing," said John Jenco, the brother. "He was just chained with a ring around his ankle to the wall with a piece of chain."

In Cell With 4 Others

The priest was released from the chain last July, when he was transferred into a 4-by-5-yard cell with four other U.S. prisoners, his brother said.

His captors gave him a Bible and a set of rosary beads. "I said 25 million Hail Marys and rosaries" and also tried to exercise in the cell, he was quoted as saying.

John Jenco said his brother told him the hostages were allowed to bathe once a day and had only two pairs of underwear--"one for washing and one for wear"--and that they "were strictly in their underwear the whole time."

The 51-year-old Roman Catholic clergyman, from Joliet, Ill., was turned over to U.S. officials Saturday in Damascus, Syria, after being freed by Muslim terrorists calling themselves Islamic Jihad (Islamic Holy War). When he was flown to the medical center here for examination and debriefing, 10 of his relatives--three brothers, three sisters, a nephew and three in-laws--flew to West Germany for a joyful reunion.

After the two-hour reunion, Jenco, wearing slacks and an open-neck shirt, spoke with reporters and expressed concern for the release of other people, including at least three Americans, still held as hostages by Lebanese terrorists.

Appearing on the hospital balcony, festooned with American flags, he declared in a soft voice, "I hope to come back to this balcony soon for Terry Anderson, David Jacobsen and Thomas Sutherland."

They are three of the four Americans with whom Jenco shared a cell during part of his captivity. The fourth was the Rev. Benjamin Weir, a Presbyterian minister from Berkeley, Calif., who was kidnaped in May, 1984, and freed last September.

When asked how he felt, Jenco replied, "I realize I have the dignity of a person again, and that's a good feeling to have."

'Forgiven His Captors'

"He has forgiven his captors," said Andy Mihelich, a nephew. "He has no hate for anyone."

Family members said the priest has been invited by Pope John Paul II to come to the Vatican on his way home to the United States but that no plans have yet been made.

In Washington, the White House said President Reagan spoke by telephone with Jenco for seven minutes Monday, telling him that "our prayers for your release have finally been answered."

"As happy as I am that you now have your freedom, I will not be satisfied until all of our citizens are released from captivity," Reagan told the priest. "I know that you join me in these sentiments."

Popcorn, Clean Clothes

Jenco's relatives, most of them from Joliet, arrived here aboard a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter transport plane, bringing as presents some clean clothes; popcorn, his favorite snack, and some gin for martinis. According to John Jenco, his brother's martini recipe is "just straight gin with his apostolic blessing on it."

Later, Mihelich said of his uncle's condition: "He is a weak man. He was very fragile and very emotional. It did not take long before tears came to all our eyes."

"He wants good old-fashioned cooking," said another brother, Joseph. "He's fond of things that put weight on you. When he gets home, we are going to have our Christmas dinner, Thanksgiving dinner . . . with goose and dumplings."

Flown From Damascus

Jenco--a member of the Order of Servites of Mary, headquartered in Buena Park, Calif.--was freed in the Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon and taken by Syrian troops to Damascus, where a U.S. military ambulance jet flew him to the medical center here.

The freed cleric brought with him a videotape bearing a message from one of his fellow hostages, Jacobsen, who was director of the hospital at the American University of Beirut. On the tape, the 55-year-old Jacobsen warned that he and the other hostages may be killed if the Reagan Administration does not negotiate with the captors.

Islamic Jihad--a group about which little is known, but whose members are believed to be Shia Muslims loyal to Iran's fundamentalist regime--demands the release of 17 Shias imprisoned in Kuwait for their part in bombings of the U.S. and French embassies there.

Robert B. Oakley, head of the U.S. State Department's anti-terrorism unit, accompanied Jenco from Damascus. The State Department's position, expressed often, is not to negotiate with terrorists over hostages.

The Remaining Hostages

Of the remaining American hostages, Anderson was chief Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press, and Sutherland was dean of the School of Agriculture at the American University of Beirut.

Jenco said he never saw the other missing American, William Buckley, a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut who was captured in March, 1984, and whom Islamic Jihad reported killing last November. His body has not been found.

Asked if the priest knew the identities of his captors, his brother John said, "He never saw their faces because they (the hostages) were completely blanketed at all times when the captors were in their presence."

The priest did not know he was to be released, his brother said, but was simply taken blindfolded from his cell, driven to a spot in the Bekaa Valley and told to start walking.

'Just Kept Walking'

"He had seen a couple of persons," said the brother, "but was apprehensive in making contact for fear he would be kidnaped again. So he just kept walking."

After hiking for "what seemed an eternity," he reached a police station manned by Syrian troops.

Jenco's nephew said his uncle described his diet as "cheese for breakfast, beans and rice for lunch and bread and jam for dinner."

Jenco's sister Mae Mihelich said the priest, who headed the Beirut office of a Catholic relief organization, plans to work for the freedom of the other hostages held in Lebanon.

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