CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- For three painful hours yesterday, Mary Hunter thought her Marine husband was dead. When military officials released an early list of American POWs turned over by the Iraqis yesterday, the name of Chief Warrant Officer Guy Hunter was not on it.
"I just lost it -- I thought the worst," said Mary Hunter, whose husband was among the first prisoners of war captured when his military reconnaissance plane was downed in the southeastern Kuwaiti desert. Bracing herself against grief, she turned determinedly to the military officials: "You tell them to get in there and count again. Guy must be there," she told them.
Indeed, when the Marines contacted Mrs. Hunter at her Camp Pendleton home shortly after noon, they had good news: The initial list had been incomplete. Mr. Hunter was coming home, as was fellow Pendleton Marine Lt. Col. Clifford Acree, whose name had appeared on the first list.
"I am just so relieved," Mrs. Hunter said. "I am so happy, so excited."
Colonel Acree's wife, Cindy, confirmed the good news about her husband, too.
"We have received official word from the Marine Corps that Cliff is OK," she said in a prepared statement. "He has not boarded the plane yet. We are very optimistic."
The cries of joy and sighs of relief at Camp Pendleton were echoed nationwide, as the Iraqis turned over 15 American prisoners -- from an Oklahoma Marine to a Pennsylvania pilot -- to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Iraq. The released soldiers, who are expected to fly to Saudi Arabia today, included six who had been listed as prisoners of war and nine as missing in action. The names of all 15 were not released, because the military was notifying their families.
"I'm just ecstatic," said Mary Storr, mother of missing Air Force Capt. Richard D. Storr of Spokane, Wash., who was last seen in Iraq by the crew of CBS reporter Bob Simon. "It's the greatest news we ever heard."
Schoolchildren in Cleveland, Okla., the hometown of Marine Capt. Michael C. Berryman, marched down the street to the Berryman home after word of his release swept the small town. Children at Westside Elementary School, where Captain Berryman's wife is a teacher, made signs and carried flags to celebrate.
"The entire school came by when we got the news," said Jane Hammontree, a friend of the family. "This little town of Cleveland just totally came to life."
In Swansea, Mass., Joseph Fox and his wife went for a quiet, private car ride yesterday afternoon to savor news of the release of their son, Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Fox, and to escape the continuous ring of the telephone and door bell.
"There is just relief, absolute relief," said Pat Borden, the released prisoner's sister. "Our stomachs can kind of relax now. We can finally sleep a little better at night."
Ms. Borden, a nurse in nearby Providence, R.I., ended up at her parents' house after finding it impossible to work yesterday. She kept searching for a television, a radio -- anything with news of the POWs in Baghdad. Unable to concentrate any longer, she finally gave up.
"Right now, we are just trying to relax," Ms. Borden said. "It has been a very exciting day."
For every celebration, however, there was at least one painful reminder that some Americans would never come home. A total of 21 U.S. prisoners have been turned over by the Iraqis, but there are 28 Americans who remain unaccounted for, according to the U.S. Central Command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.