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Exchange of Remarks With Released American Hostages at Leonardo da Vinci Airport, Fiumicino, Italy.

September 28, 1970

THE PRESIDENT. Which State are you from?

SPEAKER. Albuquerque, New Mexico.

THE PRESIDENT. Which State are you from?

SPEAKER. New York City.

THE PRESIDENT. We are having an international welcome here today.

SPEAKER. Nice to see you. We were missing you for 3 weeks. We didn't hear any news.

THE PRESIDENT. We were trying to help you without hurting you. You are all so young. That is great.

SPEAKER. We are glad to be back.

THE PRESIDENT. How many were ladies, five?


THE PRESIDENT. How many men?

SPEAKER. Twenty-seven men. We had separate rooms.

GEORGE FREDA. I don't know if you got this.

THE PRESIDENT. Something you wrote to me?

MR. FREDA. On the 6th day, I got clearance from the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine]--

THE PRESIDENT. Is that your social security number?

MR. FREDA. Right----to write this for the passengers and crew.

THE PRESIDENT. Great, I probably didn't get it. I may have it.

MR. FREDA. It didn't go through.

THE PRESIDENT. It may be but isn't probably recognized, but I will now have it. I appreciate it very much.

MR. FREDA. We know you were in there bucking for us.

THE PRESIDENT. Everybody was. As I said, it is one of those things that all of the American people, all of your colleagues at home, were frustrated about, and yet we managed to do something without having something happen to you.

SPEAKER. The shells were going right over us. They came very close a couple of times.

THE PRESIDENT. Yes, of course, they did.

SPEAKER. We are so sick of that Red Chinese jam we had to eat.

THE PRESIDENT. Is that what it was? It is a little better if you could mix some pineapple with it. That was the only way you could eat it.

I am so glad to see your spirit is good and that you haven't allowed this experience to make you feel, you know, frustrated and bitter and so forth. That is, as we all know, not a part of life that you look for. But let's say you will look back on it and say, "Well, I don't want to do it again, but I wouldn't have missed it." Right? Have you all signed up for speaking tours?

SPEAKER. We just want to go back. We just want to go home.

SPEAKER. No comment.

THE PRESIDENT. We wish you well. I must go. We are holding up Mr. Saragat, the President of Italy, for dinner. But we all wanted you to know that we were behind you and are so glad you are on your way home.

As you know, we new have guards on planes that will be a deterrent. Secretary Volpe is traveling to a number of airports on this trip to set up new electronic devices. You never can be sure.

Let me say this, that as difficult as your experience has been, what you have done may have crystalized this issue so that the possibility of it happening in the future will be reduced. When that happens, we will give you the credit.

Now you don't mind the jam, do you?

SPEAKER. Thank you for coming. I have kept the boarding card. That makes it even more historic. Thank you, sir.

PRESS SECRETARY ZIEGLER. Sir, what is your name?

MR. FREDA. My name is George Freda.

THE PRESIDENT. He sent this through. It was sent to the White House. Here is his copy of it. That is a message that I have not seen yet. But it probably came to the White House, but nobody recognized the importance of it.

SPEAKER. Thank you for coming.

THE PRESIDENT. Enjoy the flight.

SPEAKER. Thank you very much for coming.

THE PRESIDENT. Don't eat too much and don't drink too much.

SPEAKER. We did that last night.

THE PRESIDENT. Secretary Rogers' people worked on this.

SECRETARY OF STATE ROGERS. Ten or 12 of them stayed up nights, every night and did a great job.

THE PRESIDENT. They worked through every diplomatic channel. We had a lot of things going that you didn't know about.

Note: The President spoke with the released hostages at approximately 1 p.m. on board their airliner. The group, victims of Palestinian airplane hijackers, had stopped over at Fiumicino during their flight from Cyprus to New York.

Richard Nixon, Exchange of Remarks With Released American Hostages at Leonardo da Vinci Airport, Fiumicino, Italy. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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