Remarks to the Freed Hostages From the Trans World Airlines Hijacking Incident

July 2, 1985

The President. Mind, my remarks will be brief -- if I wait for a second to swallow the lump in my throat. This isn't the time for speeches; this is a time for reunions and families coming together. There is only one thing to say, and I say it from the bottom of my heart and in the name of all the people of our country: Welcome home. We're so happy you are back safe and sound. You know, you may not know this, Nancy's birthday is Saturday. And whether you like it or not, she's already declared that you are the greatest birthday present she's ever gotten.

This has been a trying and a very demanding time for so many people, but for none more than you. I talked to many of your relatives. I met them at various locations throughout the country -- and now some of us have met again -- while you were being held. And I know you won't be surprised when I tell you how committed they were to winning your freedom and how full of caring and concern they were. I know that they're very proud of you, and I know from personal experience that you should be very proud of them.

All of America was concerned about you; many prayers were said for your safe release. In the days that you were away, our attention was never once distracted from your plight, and we wouldn't rest until you returned to us safe and whole. None of you were held prisoner because of any personal wrong that any of you had done to anyone; you were held simply because you were Americans. In the minds of your captors, you represented us. Well, whatever the presumed grievance or political motive that caused these actions, let there be no confusion -- a crime was committed against you. Hijacking is a crime; kidnaping is a crime; murder is a crime; and holding our people prisoner is a crime. When cruelty is inflicted on innocent people, it discredits whatever cause in whose name it is done. And those who commit such deeds are enemies of the peace. Now you're returned to us, and we have a deep felt sigh of relief, but there are promises to be kept.

The day your plane was hijacked, the terrorists focused their brutality on a brave young man who was a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. They beat Robbie Stethem without mercy and shot him to death. Our joy at your return is substantial, but so is our pain at what was done to that son of America. I know you care deeply about Robbie Stethem and what was done to him. We will not forget what was done to him. There will be no forgetting. His murderers must be brought to justice. Nor will we forget the seven Americans who were taken captive before you and who are captive still. They must be released. The homecoming won't be complete until all have come home.

But now we rejoice at your return. Nancy and I prayed for your safety, we prayed for your speedy return, and we weren't alone. Our prayers were only two among millions and millions. We felt a great national concern when you were taken, and it's truly a national joy, as you can see, that greets your return. You are back in the free land of America safe and sound. You withstood your ordeal with extraordinary composure and coolness.

Your family's waiting for you now and your friends -- all your loved ones -- so, let the rejoicing begin. It's great to have you back where you belong, and thank you -- all of you. God bless you all.

Captain Testrake. Mr. President, Mrs. Reagan, dignitaries, ladies and gentlemen of the press, families of the ex-hostages, and the people of America, these words were written by one of our men, one of the hostages. They asked me if I would address them to you, and I wholeheartedly agree with these sentiments.

``Speaking for the 39 ex-hostages, we would like to express our sincere respect and gratitude to President Reagan and the United States Government for their continued efforts which resulted in the safe and peaceful end to our difficult situation. We hope that your efforts will bring back the seven remaining Americans still held very soon.

``Secondly, to the people of America, we are proud and honored knowing how you joined together in our time of crisis to let it be known that our country was behind us a hundred percent. It was your thoughts and prayers that gave us strength and kept our minds on our main goal: Freedom. We are now free and want to take this opportunity to thank and applaud you.''

And just in closing, I'd like to say that many of my fellow hostages share with me the profound conviction that it was our Father, God, that brought us through this ordeal safely. And in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I just wonder if you'd join with me in a brief word of thanks to the Lord.

Our Father, we just gather before you in humble adoration and praise and thanks. For we know that it was your strong hands that held us safely through this ordeal, that gave us the courage and the strength to withstand in the darkest times. And, so, Father, we just thank you for this, and we give you all the praise and the glory, through Jesus. Amen.

The President. Thank you very much. Go home! [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 3:51 p.m. at Andrews Air Force Base, MD. Prior to his remarks, the President went to Arlington National Cemetery to place a wreath at the grave of Petty Officer Robert D. Stethem, the Navy serviceman killed in Beirut during the hijacking incident. Capt. John Testrake was the pilot on the TWA flight.