Former hostage David P. Jacobsen stepped from a white Lear jet into the arms of his aged father Sunday afternoon at Orange County's John Wayne Airport, ending a saga that began 17 months ago when he was taken captive in Beirut, Lebanon.
A beaming Jacobsen was greeted by more than 20 relatives and friends, who gathered on the airport tarmac with a cooler of champagne, red, white and blue balloons and a banner decorated with yellow ribbons. It read: "Welcome Home Uncle David. We Love You."
"Dreams of this homecoming kept me going," the 55-year-old hospital administrator told reporters after an initial flurry of family embraces. "Thoughts of a reunion with family and friends gave me hope. Now that day has arrived."
Closely Guarded Secret
Although the details of Jacobsen's arrival were kept a closely guarded secret, a throng of reporters and television crews had gathered at the airport terminal by 12:30 p.m., 30 minutes before Jacobsen, his children and their spouses were due to arrive by private jet from Washington.
Relatives and friends were crowded in a private room inside the terminal, but by 12:50, they began to trickle impatiently out onto the runway. Jacobsen's father, Jacob, 92, hobbled out first, clutching the arm of his daughter, Doris Fisher.
Jacob was also the first to embrace his returning son. The plane rolled to a stop at 1:05 p.m., and as David Jacobsen set foot on California soil for the first time in nearly two years, his father stood by with his arms outstretched.
David clutched his father tightly, then held him at arm's length for a better look, smiling into the face of the man he later described as "a marvelous, 92-year-old angel . . . the sweetest man that's ever lived."
Several minutes of eerie silence followed, as family members embraced the returning man--and each other--in joy. The only sounds were the rumblings of jets and the whirring and clicking of cameras.
Jacobsen's arrival in Huntington Beach, where he lived before leaving to become hospital administrator at American University of Beirut, ended the last leg of a long trip home. He was kidnaped in May, 1985, and released in West Beirut on Nov. 2 after 531 days in captivity.
After he was let go, Jacobsen was taken to Cypress, then transported to the U.S. Air Force Hospital in Wiesbaden, West Germany, where doctors pronounced him in good health. He was reunited there Tuesday with his children, Eric, 30; Paul, 28, and Diane Duggan, 25, and their spouses. The family later flew to Washington, where Jacobsen met with President Reagan.
Warned the Media
At that meeting, Jacobsen warned the media to "back off" and to be "responsible" in coverage of his release. And he refused to answer questions about possible deals between the Administration and Iran to win his own freedom and that of other hostages still held.
That reticence was evident again Sunday as he spoke at John Wayne Airport. He refused to answer questions about the terms of his release and spoke only of the deep faith that buoyed him in captivity and his joy at being home in California, surrounded by loved ones.
"Faith in God has made this day a reality," he said. "I want to thank all the people who have followed my story, and I ask them to continue to pray for Tom (Sutherland), Terry (Anderson) . . . and all the other hostages. May they soon have a day just like this."
Jacobsen promised to hold a press conference later in the week to answer further questions, "but now I want to share this glorious day with the people I love so much and I have waited 17 months to hug and to kiss."
One sour note marred the joyful Sunday afternoon reunion. As Sally Jacobsen, David's ex-wife, uncorked bottles of champagne for a toast, their son, Eric, ran up in a panic to the card table she had placed on the tarmac.
"This isn't a good idea, alcohol being served," Eric scolded, explaining that it could be an affront to the Arabs who are still holding American hostages and, therefore, endanger those captives. "Alcohol is taboo, and it is not a good idea to show that."
Jacobsen and his children flew home aboard a chartered jet paid for by an anonymous board member of the Crystal Cathedral, said Michael Nason, spokesman for the Garden Grove church. However, airport operations spokeswoman Carol Brown said Sunday that the Rev. Robert Schuller, the cathedral's pastor, paid for the jet's services himself.
Jacobsen had attended Schuller's church in the years before he left for Beirut, Nason said.
"He (Jacobsen) got word to us that he would like to receive a call from Dr. Schuller," Nason said. "They had a private conversation Tuesday. In the process of that conversation was what led to this jet bringing him home."
Schuller was present at the airport Sunday, where he waited quietly in line for a hug. According to Nason, a welcome-home service for Jacobsen is scheduled next Sunday at the church.