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Hostages Celebrate Good News, Reflect on Lessons of Captivity : Iraq: Between toasts to impending freedom, foreigners in Baghdad turn pensive. One says the ordeal has made him a better person.

From Associated Press

Foreign hostages gathered in a Baghdad hotel Friday to sip beer, celebrate their upcoming release and reflect on their months in captivity.

“A new character emerges with people who are faced with adversity,” said Chris Mayer, 24, of England, who was held as a “human shield” at an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad.

“I’ve had my feet on the ground, but you really go through a self-examination period,” said Robert Vinton, 58, a Santa Fe, N.M., businessman who was held at a base south of Baghdad.

“I’ll become a better person and a better husband after this,” Vinton added, embracing his wife, Sue, who had traveled to Baghdad to try to free him.

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The celebration followed a vote by Iraq’s Parliament to endorse President Saddam Hussein’s call to release all foreigners trapped in Iraq and occupied Kuwait since Iraq’s Aug. 2 invasion.

“It is a monumental occasion,” said Vinton, who had been brought from the military base to a Baghdad hotel Wednesday to see his wife. She had come to Baghdad with other American and British women seeking freedom for their loved ones.

Vinton and 50 to 60 American and British hostages and their wives cheered and toasted their promised freedom Friday at the hotel.

“If you have your hands in the meat grinder and if you get them out in one piece, how would you feel?” said Garry Carr, an oil worker from Ft. Worth, Tex.

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Carr said Iraqi soldiers captured him in Kuwait in the first hours of the invasion, sent him to Baghdad and a few days later to a phosphate plant.

The hostages had few complaints about their physical treatment, but they said Iraqi soldiers had stolen their belongings.

“We were treated extremely well. They tried to get us everything we asked for,” Guy Seago, 45, of Johnson City, Tenn., said of his guards.

“The guys were very human. They provided us with what they could. They did their best,” said Tallmadge Ledford, 45, of Windhow, N.H.

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“My main complaint was the loss of freedom,” said Ronald Ginn, 49, a computer consultant from Seattle who was held at two communications centers in Baghdad.

He said his house in Kuwait was stripped clean after the invasion and estimated he had lost $80,000 worth of property.

Seago and the 20 American, British and Japanese hostages held at an oil refinery in Basra built their own makeshift, nine-hole golf course to pass the time.

Vinton said he walked at least 15 miles a day to keep in shape and to pass the time. He said he lost 28 pounds.

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Hamid El Miloudi, 46, of Chattanooga, Tenn., until recently had been one of the Americans who had sought refuge at the besieged U.S. Embassy in Kuwait.

El Miloudi said spent time tending a vegetable garden he planted at the embassy, which he said provided a lot of fresh produce for the two dozen or so people stranded there.

Ginn complained about the monotony of the food supplies. He said his group had been fed smoked salmon every day for three weeks.

“I won’t be able to look at smoked salmon again,” he said.

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