SAN ANTONIO — Appearing healthy if a bit thin, the three Americans who were captive in the Colombian jungle for more than five years made their first public appearance Monday, waving an American flag and embracing teary family members at a military hospital.
One of the former captives, Keith Stansell, scooped up his twin 5-year-old sons, who were born to his Colombian fiancee after he was kidnapped, and beamed. "Isn't this great," said Stansell, who also has two children in Bradenton. All three men have family ties in Florida.
The other two men, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonsalves, called Colombian government officials their heroes for organizing what Gonsalves called "the most perfect rescue in the history of the world."
On Wednesday, the Colombian military rescued the three men and 12 Colombian captives from Latin America's most feared insurgent group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
In 2003, guerrillas captured the American military contractors after their plane crashed in the jungle.
Col. Jackie Hayes, a doctor at the Brooke Army Medical Center, where the men have been undergoing medical tests, said they have not shown any significant medical problems, and called them "very strong and very adaptive."
The men, who are still being treated, lost about 30 pounds in captivity. It is unknown when they will return to their homes.
Stansell sent a joking message to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist: "I don't have a driver's license. How am I going to get home?"
Despite the euphoria, the men expressed concerns for the hostages who remain in FARC's hands. "There are people in this exact moment who are being punished because we got rescued successfully," Gonsalves said.
He said armed guerillas were forcing captives to march through the jungle wearing chains around their necks and heavy backpacks. He called FARC "a terrorist group with a capital T," and said most of the rebels were uneducated, poverty-stricken youths who were unable to escape the organization.
"They are brainwashed into believing that their cause is a just cause, but once they join they can never leave," Gonsalves said.