Fluttering flags and yellow ribbons marked Robert Polhill's return home after 39 months as a hostage in the Middle East and five months fighting throat cancer.

Looking gaunt but happy, Polhill waved to well-wishers Sunday during a parade."The warmth of your welcome overwhelms me," Polhill, who was unable to speak, said in a statement read by his wife, Ferial. "I regret that I am not sufficiently fluent to greet you myself."

Telephone poles and signposts were festooned with ribbons along the eight-mile parade route from Fishkill, about 50 miles north of New York City, to Beacon. People held balloons, waved American flags and wore yellow ribbons.

"I'm overwhelmed with all these people," said Polhill's mother, Ruth, who lives in Fishkill. "It was a remarkable greeting."

Polhill, 56, was an accountant and assistant business professor at Beirut University in Lebanon when he and three other faculty members were captured by Moslem extremists on Jan. 24, 1987.

He was released April 22 but was hospitalized for diabetes and malnutrition.