Former Iran hostages reuniting 30 years after their release were greeted Friday by a long line of cheering, clapping cadets, echoing their rousing reception here in 1981.
Fourteen former hostages visiting the U.S. Military Academy for a weekend reunion kicked off the day with a short walk into a stiff, snowy wind past a cordon of 4,400 shouting cadets. Some of the hostages took time to shake hands with the camouflage-and-fleece-clad cadets, thanking them for the grand welcome.
"I can't describe it. It's a little too much. We're all overwhelmed," former hostage Bruce Laingen said with a big smile as he walked into the first of a series of private meetings with cadets and faculty.
The hostages, accompanied by family members and one widow, mixed in panel discussions about their experiences with socializing over the long weekend.
Also at the private event were five veterans of the ill-fated military rescue mission that ended in a helicopter crash that killed eight U.S. servicemen. Although their shared experience was harrowing, the former hostages have a bond that remains strong after three decades, they said.
"My hope was that after 30 years, everybody would appreciate that we share this common bond, even though this guy may have been interrogated more, or this guy may have been treated differently," said Al Golacinski, who helped organize the reunion.
After 444 days of captivity, 52 hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981 -- the day that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States.
The hostages then touched down on U.S. soil at nearby Stewart International Airport and rode buses to this historic Hudson Valley academy, along a route lined with yellow ribbons and thousands of cheering people. The hostages, unaware that Americans were closely following their ordeal for more than 14 months, were stunned by the emotional welcome.
The newly released hostages spent several days at West Point, connecting with their families and mixing with cadets.