With tears, teddy bears and thanks, a weary assemblage of U.S. diplomatic spouses and children returned Tuesday evening to America, ending a three-day journey out of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.
The “stressed out” group of 20 women and 27 children arrived here about 6:18 p.m. EDT, nearly two days after crossing the burning sands of Iraq into Turkey. Most left behind husbands and fathers who are among 55 U.S. Embassy personnel from Kuwait being held against their will in Baghdad.
“Our hearts are left in Kuwait and Baghdad with all our husbands, members of our families, our private American citizens and members of the international community left behind,” said an emotional Luz Marina Colwell, the wife of U.S. Consul William Colwell.
Colwell, a short, bespectacled woman in a green-and-purple dress, read from a statement scribbled on a scrap of paper. Her message of thanks to President Bush and others responsible for their safe passage was nearly drowned by the roar of two idling buses.
Her voice seemed to crack and her eyes clouded with tears midway through her remarks as she spoke of the group’s shared ordeal. At one point, she was steadied by the supportive arm of Marge Howell, the wife of U.S. Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell, who remains in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait city.
“During the present crisis, we learned to know each other, to care for each other, and we became a big family,” Colwell said. “We had to keep being strong and keep our hearts very high.”
Shortly after her comments, the Americans began moving away from their chartered airplane. Many of the children, yawning and sleepy, carried large stuffed animals down the jet runway. Some too tired for the short walk were carried away from the plane. Largely ignoring the contingent of news photographers and reporters gathered to record their arrival, the adults hurried onto buses that took them to an undisclosed Washington-area hotel.
One woman, however, made her feelings apparent for the cameras by wearing an American flag sewn onto the left thigh of her blue jeans. And, as the buses pulled away and the plane’s crew gathered in the doorway to wave goodby, many of the family members returned the salutes.
A State Department official said Tuesday night that the family members would receive some financial assistance from the government, as is customary when embassy personnel are displaced from their stations. After resting for the night, the group is expected to disperse to their homes “all across the country,” the source said.
He added that there are no announced plans for President Bush, who is in Washington for a short spurt of work during his August vacation, to meet with the family members.
The official said the group was “pretty tired out and stressed out” by their travels, which included a 20-hour car ride across the Iraqi desert to Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey. From there, they were flown to Incirlik, an air base in Turkey, and on to Paris before arriving at the military air base in suburban Washington.