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Saint Leo student to return to U.S. today

The last time John Charlton saw his mother and sister, they were leaving Iraq and heading for freedom. Charlton, a 19-year-old student at Saint Leo College in eastern Pasco County, had hoped to leave too, but he was unexpectedly detained and driven back to Baghdad, where he was held for nearly two more months.

Today, Charlton is scheduled to return to the United States to be reunited with his mother and sister for the first time since late August.

"He sounds great," said Margriet Charlton, who talked with her son by telephone after Iraqi officials released him and 13 other Americans on Tuesday. "I saw him on TV and he looks great. He has lost a little weight."

Mrs. Charlton said by telephone from northern Virginia that the only disappointment is that her husband, Fred Charlton, is still being held in Iraq. Fred Charlton was a general services officer at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait before Iraq invaded its tiny neighbor on Aug. 2.

Mrs. Charlton said she did speak with her husband after her son's release and he is "very happy that they were able to get all the college students out."

John Charlton began the journey home Wednesday, flying from Amman, Jordan, to London. He said detainees got little notice that they were to be released.

"It was just a few hours _ pretty sudden," he told the Associated Press. "I was never scared, except the invasion was a little scary, but that's about it."

Charlton said he sees no justification for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, but he says he holds no grudge against the people who must live under Saddam Hussein's autocratic rule.

"The Iraqi people in general are pretty nice and polite. I mean I have nothing against them," Charlton told Reuters. "But Kuwait _ I don't think they should have invaded Kuwait; I mean it's a nation too. . . . They've helped out Iraq in the past. I don't see why Iraq should want more."

Charlton and his sister Irene, a junior majoring in elementary education at Saint Leo, were spending the summer with their parents in Kuwait when Iraq invaded.

After arriving in Amman on Tuesday night, Charlton said he was eager to return to the United States, to see his friends and to "be able to move around without any problems."

Mrs. Charlton said her son, who would have been a sophomore at Saint Leo this year, will not be able to return to campus until the spring semester.

_ Information from Reuters and AP was used in this report.