Twenty-one former American prisoners of war, described as recuperating from "a rough course in survival" at the hands of Iraq, are in the care of military doctors after tearful family reunions and a flag-bedecked home-coming.
"Our children are home without too much damage to them," Calvin Zaun told reporters at Bethesda Naval Medical Center shortly after his son, Lt. Jeffrey N. Zaun, 28, and the 20 others arrived Sunday at this base just outside Washington.Col. Wynn Mabry, an Air Force surgeon who accompanied the former prisoners home on a flight that included a meal of pizza, said, "I am amazed at the amount of recuperation done already."
"God saved us," Air Force Col. David M. Eberly told thousands of cheering well-wishers and family members gathered to welcome the former POWs home from the Persian Gulf war. "Our families' love and your prayers sustained us."
President Bush said later that he had been moved by televised scenes of the return of the ex-POWs and other troops.
"It is very, very exciting. And as they come home, I expect every family is like Barbara's and mine with tears coming down our faces today and almost every day since they started back," Bush told a patriotic country music concert at Ford's Theater.
"We're going to take all the pride and the excitement that this country feels and give them the biggest welcome home party that this country has ever seen," he promised.
Bush "might go to a homecoming celebration" next Sunday on his way home from Bermuda, where he is meeting British Prime Minister John Major, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said today. It would be at a military base in the South, Fitzwater said, giving no other details.
The returning POWs entered the Walter Reed Army, Bethesda Naval and Malcolm Grow Air Force medical centers in the Washington area after private reunions with their families. Officials said they would undergo evaluation for several days.
Army Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Stamaris Jr., 31, of Boise was flown home apart from the others on a C-141 medical evacuation plane because of a broken leg and other injuries. In full uniform, he joined the arrival ceremony propped up on a hospital gurney, touching an American flag on his lap as his right hand snapped to his forehead in salute.
Stamaris' helicopter was shot down as he tried to rescue Air Force Capt. William Andrews. Andrews, 32, of Syracuse, N.Y., was also taken prisoner. He walked on crutches from the blue and white plane, part of the presidential fleet, that carried all but Stamaris home.
Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey D. Fox, 39, of Fall River, Mass., had "a little bit of a limp" but "sounded like he was in good spirits and good shape," said Audrey Murawski of Alexandria, Va., a friend who joined Fox and his family at the arrival.