By Margie Bonnett
May 04, 1981 12:00 PM

The psychiatrists had nearly all predicted a dark passage for the returning hostages 100 days ago. The prognosis was for a grim psychic slog through nameless angers, psychosomatic disorders and a deep, late-acting depression—all unconscious reactions to 444 days of helplessness and dependence on their vicious and arbitrary captors. But what was this? Laughing? Bicycle-riding? Trading reminiscences with former cellmates of Tehran’s so-called “Mushroom Inn”? The reunion of ex-hostages two weeks ago at the Greenbrier, a luxurious resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., was perhaps just what the doctor ordered, but hardly what the battery of 20 State Department psychiatrists and psychologists assembled there had been expecting. Some of the 31 former hostages who attended (22 had declined the invitation to one last expenses-paid romp because of the demands of fully resumed lives) found the dire predictions mainly amusing. As embassy political officer John Limbert put it: “It takes about five minutes to adjust to having clean sheets to sleep on and being able to eat Chinese food whenever you want to.”

They were home. The kaleidoscopic blur of welcoming parades, hand-shaking and speechifying had cleared at last and life had begun again—not exactly as it had been before, perhaps, but more nearly so than many had been led to believe was possible. Of the nine Marine guards, two are planning to leave the service to better themselves (see box, pages 38 and 39), but all are back on active duty now (though only Sgt. Jimmy Lopez is going back into embassy security). The other 12 military men among them had long since been reassigned. Of the 32 State Department and International Communications Agency personnel, the oldest, Foreign Service officer Robert Ode, 65, had retired, a few remained on accumulated leave time to write books and pursue other interests, and the rest had either been given new postings or were promised them by the fall. And it was a far, far better place they were going to than they had ever been before. “We’ll be frank,” as one State Department spokesman put it. “We’re going to bend over backward to accommodate them. They’ve earned it.”

Many feel their ordeal has already rewarded them with a new way of experiencing their lives. State Department administrator Gary Lee (see story, page 40) recently found himself gazing at the budding trees outside and pondering the marvels of spring as he washed dishes—both activities to which he was previously unaccustomed. Air Force Lt. Col. David Roeder, now assigned to the Pentagon, says he’s also finding new pleasure in the simple things: “Looking at flowers, walking hand in hand with my children. I cherish every moment.” Embassy cultural officer Kathryn Koob, who is booked on the lecture circuit into 1982, says her two biggest adjustment problems are keeping off all the weight she lost and “trying to be responsible to all of the people who have been so overwhelmingly kind. I’ve had trouble seeing my personal friends.” Colonel Roeder wryly agrees that the problem now is not so much their past as their present captivity. “I just want to go back to being ‘David who?’ ” he says, “and not someone’s pet hostage.”

The troubles expressed at the Greenbrier—in seminars edifyingly titled “Getting Back to Work,” “Improving Family Relations” and “Problems of Re-Entry”—were mainly small things. Many reported disliking loud noises and crowds more than before, and several confessed to buying sprees after their release. Communications officer Charles Jones, the only black hostage retained the entire 444 days, admits he went on “an orgy of clothes-buying. I was like a kid in a candy store.” Communications specialist Frederick Kupke bought a 1974 Jaguar XKE for himself and a motorcycle for his father. And Louisa Kennedy, spokeswoman for the Families Liaison Action Group, who is now collaborating on a book with her economics counselor husband, Moorhead, says she has noticed that he likes to shop for clothes and go to the supermarket far more than he did before. “It reflects a new appreciation for freedom and choice,” she says.

A few spoke of deeper problems. There were stories of difficult readjustment among children of the former captives. Communications officer Phil Ward said his 9-year-old son, Scott, clung to his belt loop and wouldn’t let him out of sight for several weeks after his return. According to Dr. Charles Figley, a Purdue psychologist, the children of Consul General Richard More field treated him so solicitously that “he felt like a mental patient. Slowly but surely, they got used to each other again. And most families will—maybe it will take six weeks for some, or six months, but they will.”

As yet there have been no divorces and only one rumored separation among the ex-hostages, but as a State Department official says: “If [marital] trouble was brewing before the embassy was seized, it’s probably still brewing.” Army Warrant Officer Joe Hall and his wife, Cherlynn, admit to stresses between them since their reunion. “We’re really dealing with two new people,” says Hall. “Cheri doesn’t need me as much.” She confirms that view of the situation. “Before I left,” Joe says, “I made the decisions, but while I was away she got used to making them. We have grown from this experience, but I wouldn’t recommend getting taken hostage to change your marriage.”

At least one ex-hostage can argue that captivity improved his love life. A long-lost sweetheart read of the release of communications technician Clair “Corty” Barnes in a magazine, and the two have since become engaged. Does Barnes credit the Iranians with rekindling the romance? “I don’t want to give them credit for anything,” Barnes snorts. “They should be nuked until they glow.”

Barnes’ bitterness is understandably prevalent in the group. Army Sgt. Don Hohman has been seeing a psychiatrist on an informal basis “as a way of ventilating the experience.” Phil Ward, who refused to show any emotion to the Iranian students, suffered from crying spells on his return and was hospitalized for six weeks. He has also suffered from sleeplessness and paranoia. “When someone opened a Coke can,” he reports, “I’d jump. It was related to the G-3 rifles clicking outside my door all night.” But the insomnia and other traumas have passed now, and Ward has become active in the Cub Scouts since his release from the hospital. His next assignment will be as a State Department training officer.

Dr. Figley, director of Purdue’s Family Research Institute and co-author of a 600-page study of the problems likely to face hostage families, credits the government’s sensitive, professional preparation of the hostages and their families for the smoothness of their transitions now. “Their full recovery,” he says, “will depend on moving from the victim mentality to the survivor mentality. A victim says, ‘I can’t do things because I was held hostage in Iran.’ The survivor says, ‘I can do this because I was held hostage in Iran and I learned from it.’ ”

Several stand to profit materially from what they learned; at least five of them have been contracted to write books, and several others have signed on to the lucrative lecture circuit. (The usual rule which limits government employees to $25,000 in outside income per year has been amended to allow them to distribute larger fees over several years.) But most are anxious to put the entire episode behind them, and it was in that effort that the Greenbrier retreat proved most helpful. Navy Cdr. Donald Sharer, who skipped the meetings, paid tribute to his former comrades by buzzing the resort in an F-14 fighter. Defense attaché Col. Thomas Schaefer and John Limbert, who had played tennis at the British embassy in Iran on the Saturday before they were taken hostage, planned a rematch—”to close the loop,” as Schaefer put it. True, former embassy chargé d’affaires Bruce Laingen, who is being widely touted for political office, could not resist buying a book on the hostage crisis when looking for something to read on the flight home to Washington. But no one left the Greenbrier talking nostalgically of another such reunion: Their nostalgia was for home. “This is probably the last time the hostages will get together,” said FLAG leader Louisa Kennedy. “We’re now looking forward to living a normal life.”