The children of freed hostage David P. Jacobsen left California on Monday for a family reunion in West Germany, carrying photographs from a wedding that he missed, tapes of his favorite songs and, if his sons can muster the courage, news of his beloved California Angels' recent demise in the American League playoffs.
Sitting in a private airport lounge before United Airlines Flight 52 took his siblings and their spouses to Washington on the first leg of their trip, a tired but beaming Eric Jacobsen said it was not until he saw Monday morning television footage of his father leaving an airplane in Wiesbaden that he was convinced of his freedom.
"That really brought it home that he was indeed free," said Jacobsen. "It took me past the shock of the release and made me a lot more joyful and more in the mood to celebrate."
Jacobsen, 55, administrator of the hospital at the American University of Beirut, was released Sunday in West Beirut after being held hostage in Lebanon for 17 months by Muslim extremists. While he was a captive, Jacobsen's relatives--led by his eldest son, Eric--traveled the country to focus the public's attention on his plight.
During the family's ordeal, Eric, 30, and the relatives of three other American hostages criticized the Reagan Administration for not doing enough to free them.
The younger Jacobsen said Monday that he had no idea what led to his father's release nor did he regret speaking out.
"In fact, I would not have waited as long if I had to do it over again," Jacobsen said. "If it's shown to me that they (the U.S. government) brought my father out, I'll be the first to say 'I'm sorry' and 'Thank you very much.' "
The six members of the Jacobsen clan later flew to Washington, where they boarded an evening flight for West Germany.
While they tempered their statements Monday with reminders about the Americans still in captivity, they nevertheless could barely contain their excitement.
Eric's wife, Cathy, was starry-eyed as she recalled hearing her father-in-law's "strong" voice on the static-filled phone from Beirut on Sunday afternoon.
"He said, 'This is Dad. I'm alive! Tell everybody I'm alive,' " she related. "It was so overwhelming. I just couldn't believe it was him on the phone. He sounded good, the same old Dad, concerned about the family and how we were doing. He stressed the fact not to worry about him and told me to tell his (92-year-old) father he was OK.
"It was like he never left," she added. "Like he's calling just to see how everybody's doing. That's the only way I could describe it."
The one disappointment for the former hostage was that his children were not there when he called. Eric, his brother, Paul, who lives in Rialto, and their sister, Diane Duggan of Long Beach, were elsewhere, talking with reporters, and were unaware that their father was on the line.
David Jacobsen's ex-wife, Sara, was on hand when the call came and filled him in on family happenings--including the news that Diane, 25, "would be giving birth to their first grandchild next month. Paul's wife, Lori, is also pregnant.
Cathy Jacobsen said her father-in-law had been unaware that his children and their spouses would be joining him in a day. She said he was "delighted" when he heard.
The freed hostage's younger son, Paul, described his emotions as "walking on air," and added, "I just want to see him so bad."
Like his brother and sister, Paul, 28, had slept just a few hours in the last two days and said he was functioning on rushes of adrenalin. Referring to his sister's wedding and the two grandchildren on the way, the middle Jacobsen added, "At least my father isn't coming home to any bad news."
Well, at least not much.
David Jacobsen, as it turns out, is a die-hard California Angels fan, and both Eric and Paul hope to avoid, as long as possible, the subject of this year's American League playoffs. The Angels came within one strike of beating the Boston Red Sox last month, only to lose the game and the 1986 pennant.
"I may not bring that up right off the bat," said Eric, marveling at the thought of being able to have a normal conversation with his dad. "He's pretty traumatized, probably, just by coming out of a room to all these people. I'm not going to tell him about what happened to the Angels and really drive him over the edge."