Some ex-captives troubled, some normal, all changed


WASHINGTON -- Some former hostages have bounced back to resume normal lives, with no apparent lingering aftereffects from their ordeal. Others remain troubled or angry over their experiences in captivity, and some are still under medical or psychological care.

In the years since their release, some have hit the lecture circuit, written books or launched personal campaigns in behalf of their imprisoned "brothers." Others have chosen to avoid publicity and to return to the solitude of work, family and friends.

They have responded to freedom in different ways, but all say their lives will be forever changed.

Robert Polhill, the former Beirut University College accounting teacher, released in 1990 after 39 months, emerged from captivity to face a serious medical challenge: throat cancer. Less than two months after his release, Mr. Polhill, a diabetic and longtime smoker, underwent surgery to remove his voice box and, until recently, could barely speak.

In a way, he said in a recent interview, confronting cancer was a blessing in disguise because it provided a major distraction from any readjustment difficulties he might otherwise have experienced.

"We had something else major to deal with right away," said Mr. Polhill, who lives in Arlington, Va., with his Palestinian wife, Ferial.

In June, Mr. Polhill got his voice back. He underwent a second surgery to implant a new device -- a voice prosthesis -- that enables him to speak naturally.

Mr. Polhill said that he had never experienced anger or felt the need to retaliate against his captors. Instead, he said, he has striven to return to a normal life as quickly as possible.

"My first emotion was relief that it was over," he said. "I began looking forward as quickly as I could. My wife and I sat down and said: 'That's behind us now. Let's get on with our lives.' "

It has not been as easy for some of the others.

Edward Austin Tracy, for example, the adventurer and independent book publisher released in August after five years' imprisonment, remains hospitalized in the Boston Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he continues to receive care. Neither his family nor his physicians will discuss his condition, but he is believed to be under treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder.

Frank Herbert Reed, former director of the private Lebanon International School, who was released in 1990 after nearly four years of captivity, is back in Malden, Mass., his home, and "is much better now," after grappling with physical and emotional problems, said his 92-year-old mother, Leota Reed Sprague.

Mr. Reed, who has been extremely critical of the U.S. government's hostage-related actions since his return, was suffering from chronic arsenic poisoning and "was months in the hospital," his mother said. Now, she said, "he's very busy writing a book and lecturing" and is "much better mentally, back more like himself -- more human."

David P. Jacobsen, a former hospital administrator from Huntington Beach, Calif., who was held for 17 months in Beirut before his November 1986 release, recently has been promoting his new book, "Hostage: My Nightmare in Beirut." He has carried on an unrelenting public campaign in behalf of his fellow captives.

"I have great anger towards the people who kidnapped me, and I have dedicated my life to their apprehension and punishment," he said.

Two churchmen, the Rev. Lawrence Martin Jenco and the Rev. Benjamin T. Weir, have quietly returned to their religious duties.

Father Jenco, a Roman Catholic priest who was director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut, was kidnapped in January 1985 and released after 19 months. He is a campus minister at the University of Southern California.

Mr. Weir, a Presbyterian minister who was released in 1985 after 16 months' imprisonment, teaches at the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad