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Still Praying for Freedom for a Friend Held Hostage

Times Staff Writer

Every few months, as I’m half-listening to the radio, I’ll hear the words “Lebanon . . . hostages,” and my heart will start pounding. Maybe this will be it, I’ll think, maybe now Terry Anderson will be freed, after 4 years of the bleakest captivity.

Sometimes the captors will release a picture of Anderson. It’s clearly him, but it’s not the Anderson I remember. My wife looks at the picture and invariably says, “Whenever I think of Terry, I think of him smiling.”

Last Thursday marked the fourth anniversary of Anderson’s life in Beirut as a hostage of a Shiite Muslim fundamentalist group known as Hezbollah. Next Thursday will be the 10th anniversary of my first meeting with Anderson.

We met in the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. He worked for the Associated Press news agency. I worked for the rival news agency United Press International. The agencies battled each other fiercely, and some AP bureau chiefs were said to chastise their reporters for fraternizing with the opposition after hours.

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But Anderson wasn’t like that.

Days after my wife and I arrived in Japan after 3 1/2 years in India, Anderson invited us to see what I still think of as “Terry’s Japan.”

He and his wife lived in Kamakura, an ancient capital of Japan about half an hour south of Tokyo by train. It is a graceful old city, dotted with Buddhist temples and shady glades that are oases of calm in bustling Japan.

Anderson escorted us from temple to temple, then brought us to his home to meet his wife, Miki, his daughter, Gabriela, and the family’s two Siamese cats. He had met Miki, who is Japanese, while in Japan as a U.S. Marine; her family wasn’t too happy about her marrying the gaijin , or foreigner, but he felt that they eventually made their peace with the match.

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I still remember the kindness of Terry and Miki to my wife and myself. Despite those years in India, Japan seemed so incredibly foreign to us. It was more difficult for us to meet anyone who spoke English than it had been in India. To two people suffering a stiff dose of culture shock, the Andersons offered a refuge and a glimpse of Japan’s pleasures.

Terry and I became friends quickly. We were both directors of the correspondents’ club and often got together for lunch or a few beers after work. We spent a lot of time in South Korea too, reporting on coups and a civil uprising there, trying to beat each other’s brains out during the day and then huddling over dinner to compare how we’d done.

More than once Anderson spoke of his loathing for guns, yet like all of us he followed the gunfire because all too often that’s where the story was.

He used to talk about switching from the infantry to the public information unit while a Marine in Vietnam, figuring that although the switch would force him to stay in the country longer it would likely increase his chances of living. And he talked of a cousin who was a New York City policeman, whom Terry wouldn’t let enter his apartment with a pistol.

Yet sometimes Anderson did things that weren’t quite bright.

In May, 1980, opponents of the then-ruler of South Korea, Chun Doo Hwan, took over the South Korean city of Kwangju for nearly a week. Anderson and I entered Kwangju separately to await the inevitable army counterattack.

It came not long before dawn one morning. I had managed to get a hotel room overlooking the provincial headquarters, where the dissidents had their command post. As the troops massed, I invited Anderson and a few others up to watch the takeover.

When we saw soldiers scaling roofs and moving into position, I left the room to see if any other reporters wanted ringside seats for the action. As I climbed back up the stairs to my room, I heard round after round of automatic weapon fire blasting into the hotel and windows shattering. I turned a corner and saw Anderson and two other reporters crawling on their hands and knees out of the room and down the corridor as fast as they could go.

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It turned out that Anderson had inched up the wall to the window of the room to snap off a picture. A soldier on a roof maybe 20 feet away saw him and waved to him to get down. Anderson did, but then edged up again and tried to snap off another picture. This time the soldier started spraying gunfire into the room--first at head level and then at the level of a man’s chest if he was kneeling. The bullets ripped through both walls and shattered the furniture in the room. Fortunately, Anderson and the others hadn’t just knelt down; they had dropped to their bellies on the floor, so the bullets went over their heads.

But though the picture of Anderson on his belly sticks in the mind, it is overshadowed by remembrances of Terry organizing a wine-tasting party, Terry hosting a beach picnic in Kamakura, Terry donning the helmet that gave him the look of Darth Vader, hopping on his motorcycle and roaring down to the train station for the commute to Tokyo.

Terry left Tokyo more than a year before I did, going first to South Africa and then to Beirut, still with the Associated Press. His marriage broke up. He has a Lebanese wife now and a daughter he hasn’t seen. His father--whom I remember coming to Japan to see a delighted Terry--died while Terry was a hostage. So did his brother.

A bit more than 2 years ago, David P. Jacobsen of Huntington Beach appeared before the Orange County Board of Supervisors in Santa Ana to pick up a commendation. Jacobsen had been administrator of American University Hospital in Beirut when he was taken hostage in May, 1985, and held for 17 months. At the time of Jacobsen’s appearance, the arms-for-hostages dealings between the Reagan Administration and Iran were just starting to come to light.

I spoke to Jacobsen after the ceremony to tell him I was a friend of Anderson and wanted to know if he was all right. Jacobsen said he was indeed OK and some day would be free.

I don’t think Jacobsen thought it would take this long. I know I certainly didn’t think so. Last week I sent a card to Anderson’s sister, Peggy Say, who has worked tirelessly to remind politicians and ordinary Americans that her brother and others are still hostage.

I send these cards several times a year, though I’ve never met Say. I write just about the same message each time: We’re praying for Terry and hoping he’ll be freed soon.


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