Family finds man was POW in Iraq, not missiong in action TV pictures told family Robert Wetzel was alive.


Until Navy Lt. Robert Wetzel appeared on television early Monday, Kate Farber had wondered if her brother might be lost forever.

Wetzel was flying an A-6 Intruder with Lt. Jeffrey Zaun on Jan. 18 when they were shot down. Zaun's bruised face soon appeared on front pages and television screens across the country and he was a prisoner of war.

But at least people knew he was alive, Kate Farber thought.

Farber's brother was listed as missing in action and there was nothing to indicate that he had survived.

"We were only told one thing -- that his plane went out on a mission and did not return," Farber said from her home in Elkridge.

Early Monday morning, however, Wetzel's family got "absolutely the most thrilling news any of us will ever hear in all our lives. Our prayers were answered," Farber recalled.

Televised pictures showed Wetzel and nine other allied prisoners of war being released from enemy hands to the Red Cross in Baghdad.

On Wednesday, Farber, 35, received a telephone call from her 30-year-old brother, who said he was on a ship somewhere in the Middle East and expected to return to Andrews Air Force Base on Sunday.

"He sounds great," Farber said.

Wetzel, whose arm was in a sling when he was released, told his sister he was injured when he and Zaun ejected from their plane. He told her he was taken to a hospital somewhere in enemy territory, but he praised the Iraqi doctors who treated him.

"It's a shock. That is really a blessing," Farber said. "He said all the Iraqi people he came into contact with treated him as an injured person, not as a prisoner of war."

She said her brother told family members about his plane being shot down and his capture but said military officials have asked them not to discuss those details.

Family members remained close throughout the ordeal, and they wrote letters to the Iraqi Embassy asking them to treat prisoners of war well. Still, they worried silently that Wetzel may have been killed.

"We all worried about that. We didn't talk about it," Farber said. "We all supported one another and tried to stay positive."

She also received daily calls of support from her neighbors and friends in Howard County, who greeted Wetzel's release with enthusiasm. "It's really personalized the war so much," she said.

Wetzel was stationed in Virginia Beach when the war began and has a fiancee, Jacqui Curtin. He is the sixth of nine children in a family from Metuchen, a small town in central New Jersey.

Farber said, "He's everybody's favorite. He's a good guy, just a real good guy."

She said she feels "wonderful" about her brother's release, but she won't be completely happy until he steps off the plane at Andrews, "and until we have all the POWs home."

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