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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Hostages to Heroes

Aired July 12, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANNOUNCER: "Hostages to Heroes," a Robin Meade exclusive.
ROBIN MEADE, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to this special presentation, "Hostages to Heroes."

Hi there, I'm Robin Meade. We're coming to you from San Antonio, Fort Sam, Houston, where three former American hostages granted their first exclusive interview to me, has been rescued from the jungles of Colombia.

In the course of the next hour you're going to hear them describe their despair during five years of captivity at the hands of the rebel group FARC. But you're also going to be amazed at the resilience of Tom Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

Can you, any of you, take me to your darkest day in captivity? What was happening, and how did you survive that? That day?

MARC GONSALVES: I remember my darkest day was in the first months of our captivity. We were, at that point, locked in boxes at night. And they would unlock the boxes to let us out.

And that night, I dreamt about my daughter, who was my little girl and still is. And I had this dream about her that was so real. She was sitting on my lap, and I was -- she had little braids in her hair. And it was a wonderful dream with all of my family. But the problem was I woke up.

And being freshly taken, abducted, it hurt. It was very, very painful. It was very painful. And I couldn't -- I couldn't lift my chin. My head got so heavy. And I was just like this.

And we weren't allowed to speak to each other, the three of us, at that time. But Keith saw from the other corner of the camp, from his box, that I was in a very hard, difficult moment.

And these two guys, they came over, and they put their arms around me. When they did that, I just started bawling. And it was a hard, hard day. I cried a lot.

But something happened that day. At night, the evening, when -- before the sun went down, again, we came close to each other, the three of us, and we were looking up. And there was a rainbow. This is -- this is a true story. There was a rainbow up there. And the three of us, we had our arms around each other, and we were looking at it.

Tom said, "I wonder if it's a sign." Well, I believe in God. And I looked at that rainbow, and I'll never forget it. And I held that rainbow. I took it as a sign.

KEITH STANSELL: I remember that. I remember that.

GONSALVES: As something for me and for us, that we're going to live and we're going to go home. No logic told me that. Nothing that I saw happening told me that we were going to live.

But something moved my spirit, and I always believed that we were going to live and that we were going to come home one day. I just never knew when.

MEADE: When they told you, you were free, tell me about your emotions.

THOMAS HOWES: It was like somebody just released from a tar pit. You've got one arm - you're just suddenly free. I was dazed by it. And all three probably had different reactions.

The second thing I thought was man, I'm in a Russian helicopter, I hope this damned thing doesn't crash because I want to make it through to enjoy this freedom.

MEADE: Because that's how this whole thing started for your guys; a crash.

HOWES: Yes.

MEADE: What were your first thoughts when they said you're free? Did you believe it because you were led to suspect so many things after all these years?

GONSALVES: The way I found out that we were free, it was a shock. As Tom said, there was a scuffle on the airplane. And I was sitting in the very back seat of the helicopter and right across from me, almost exactly where you're sitting right now from where I am, is Cesar, the front commander.

And as the guys have said, we are now tied hands and feet. I did notice that Keith had broken his binds off and I didn't say anything but I -- sitting down, I was a little nervous. I didn't first of all like being tied in a helicopter. But when that helicopter took off and got airborne, chaos broke, as Tom said and all I saw was a scuffle right next to Keith.

MEADE: But didn't some of these supposed humanitarian workers say, we are with the military and you are free. When did you hear about this?

GONSALVES: OK. What happened was during this scuffle I got up, tried to get up to get to Keith because the scuffle was right next to him and I wanted to try to keep him out of it, do whatever I could and losing my mind, I guess, in the chaos and excitement, I couldn't move, I was tied. Well, one of the aide workers grabbed me, kind of put his arms around me and put me down and he said, "We are Army. We are Army." And that's when I found out I was free.

MEADE: In that moment of pure joy, where do you thoughts go?

KEITH STANSELL: Each other.

GONSALVES: I was in disbelief for a while, thinking, am I awake or am I asleep because I slept so many times and dreamt about being free. And to think that, to actually think that it was going to happen, it was difficult to take it in and like Tom said, I thought the same thing. We're on a helicopter please don't let us crash now.

MEADE: Are all of you healthy?

GONSALVES: ... from head to toe.

MEADE: Physically?

GONSALVES: I think we're in good shape. We've got some aches and pains and sores and rashes and things to get over still.

STANSELL: ...we have permanent damage, but...

MEADE: No hepatitis, no malaria? Nothing like that?

HOWES: We just got over malaria two months before -- I just got it two months before the crash.

GONSALVES: We're still taking medicine for those things. We're going to be OK. But it's something that is steps at a time. And that's what this program is. It's baby steps, allowing us to get back into reality.

MEADE: For example, the major general told me that when you got back here, you only got to see your family a little bit. And then you were separated.

STANSELL: Right.

MEADE: Did that help or hurt?

STANSELL: It helped. It helped.

GONSALVES: It helped incredibly. Tommy's got a story about that.

HOWES: Well, I felt again, like the guys were saying, we had the visions because we just picked pieces apart in the prison camp. Anything we could think about, we'd talk about for hours.

And we'd talk quite a bit, OK, what would happen if we were suddenly released or rescued? And we'd think, well, it's possible they would have this type of transport to the states and we'd -- you know, we'd joke that maybe we need to use frequent flyer mileage.

MEADE: Maybe you'd need frequent flyer miles upon your release?

STANSELL: Well, we ran all of the possibilities. When we told you earlier about just analyzing stuff we played out every scenario. From the scenario that was the most ideal and we were treated very, very well to the worst case scenario. That was a time, as we explained earlier, just to pass the time.

And when I got here, I have two little boys, five-year-old twins.

MEADE: And you'd never met them.

STANSELL: I'm sorry.

MEADE: It's all right.

STANSELL: No, it's a happy -- this is happy. This is a good thing for me.

HOWES: The camp boss told us about the fact that they just thought he had one little boy.

STANSELL: I thought one had died.

HOWES: He didn't even think about getting the photo. He said, he saw the photo...

STANSELL: He didn't bring the picture. I've got two boys I've never seen.

You know, these two guys helped me through it. I knew the mother of my children was pregnant with twins and then he said, well, I just saw you just had one baby. You know, this sort of thing -- we're in a cage.

But this is just a deep breath of happiness. I'll tell you here. I hear these two little guys on the radio sending me messages you know, on the AM radio station on Sunday nights. And we'd get to know them and you know, Mark and I, chained together, literally. You listen to your families and you're -- you know, you are a family.

And I walked in here and the first time is limited, just about 40 minutes. I walked in here with the general. Here you got you know, big general, ex-special forces guy. He was more nervous than I was because he was just worried how this was going to go with the kids.

I opened the door, now imagine, you got these two children, to me which is -- and they just -- I hear, Papa, papa, papa. And it just hit me. It was like I had never been gone. And that's credit for their mother.

It's -- there's an intensity level to them. When they first tell us, like, we were talking, "Hey, you're only going to get to see your family for 40 minutes." There was a reason for it. Forty minutes is overload and so I did the 40 minutes, they took me out, a few hours later you come back.

These people here know how to manage this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MEADE: I got to tell you that at times this interview felt a little bit like show-and-tell. Each one of them brought something that they wanted to show us. And you're going to be amazed at their ingenuity; things that they came up with to pass the time.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GONSALVES: Life there in captivity is difficult. I don't want to go into details, just to say that we looked for any escape, any method of escape we could to be able to just get a little bit of mental...

MEADE: OK. So life was so incredibly...

GONSALVES: Monotonous.

MEADE: Monotonous. Every day you had eleven and a half hours basically to fill.

GONSALVES: Mm-hmm.

MEADE: Because you weren't allowed to do anything except with your mind. And apparently a little bit with your hands.

GONSALVES: Right.

MEADE: Well, what is this? How did you make this?

GONSALVES: This is a chess board right here. I don't know if the camera can zoom in on this. Keith and I signed this when we made it and Tom also.

MEADE: And did you carry this around with you for years?

HOWES: Look at the date, sure was a signature date.

GONSALVES: Yes. We signed it on the 10th of December, 2005. And since then I was carrying it. This is the chess board and here are the pieces that...

MEADE: Where did you -- how did make the pieces?

GONSALVES: I was able to carve with a broken piece of a machete.

MEADE: You carved chess pieces with a broken piece of machete?

STANSELL: He just woke up one day and did it. He said, guys, I'm going to make a chess set. He had a broke piece -- he just started. He said, I'm making a chess set, I'm tired of this.

MEADE: And your captors allowed you to do it or did you hide it? GONSALVES: No. They allowed me to do this. Some of the lower ranking guards actually took an interest to see if I was going to be able to finish it.

HOWES: They had wanted one later.

STANSELL: They wanted it themselves, they wanted...

MEADE: They wanted you to carve it.

GONSALVES: Yes. Then later they wanted me to carve something for them.

MEADE: So how often did this keep your mind sharp and pass the day?

GONSALVES: That's the point that I wanted to make was that this chess set here must have gotten, wouldn't you say, hundreds of hours of use between...

STANSELL: Thousands of hours...

GONSALVES: All of the hostages, we -- it was a way for us to stop thinking about the cruel situation that we were in, and then thinking about something else and exercise our minds.

MEADE: It looks great. It's incredible.

STANSELL: We would sit chained, thanks to this guy right here, something -- he just woke up one morning and said he has got to do something. Eight months -- it was eight, was it, I think?

GONSALVES: Three months.

STANSELL: Three months he spent carving this, just non-stop. And we might get hit, the camp would be moved and Marc would roll with his chess set, keep going. We would sit there in the morning, wearing chains, we're sitting Indian style on a piece of plastic just playing chess.

And when you're doing that, you're free. Your mind is engaged, you are not a prisoner. And that's the game, that's the victory, and they don't even know it.

They could come look at us playing it, but we're not there. We're somewhere else when we're doing that. And that's what this guy did.

MEADE: So in your minds then, were you ever a captive? In your mind did you always stay free?

STANSELL: Oh, 100 percent, yes.

HOWES: I've got to say, I was a captive for -- I would make up the thing -- this was a getaway, because you were there, you knew -- I knew I was a captive and this was a getaway. When I was playing chess I was free.

MEADE: But in your mind...

HOWES: And I did that -- we came up with these things to not be -- not have that captive feeling.

GONSALVES: They tried to capture our minds and brainwash into their philosophy and their doctrine. I think they would have loved to have done that. They tried, but I think the three of us, we maintained firm to the American way.

We love our country. And there's no brainwashing that they could have done to change us. And so we did stay free. They couldn't take control of that.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Robin Meade's exclusive interview continues in a moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWES: He got to the point where he said he was going to kill me one day. He took out his gun and made a cocking -- he didn't quite -- half cocked it. He said, "I'm going to kill you."

You know, I made a comment back. Then he lowered the gun. He said, "Well, I'm not going to kill you, but I'm going to ruin your day." Then he went down to my feet and he said, "I'm going to shoot you in the foot." I said it was going to be tough to march. "Well, I'll shoot you in the arm."

Finally, he just gave up. And he double chained me that day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOWES: Our last prison camp commander was Enrique. I had a particular distaste for him, because, you know, it was that revolutionary philosophy that they would spout. And they told us that if we -- depending on our behavior, we wouldn't be in chains. He put us in chains.

One night we were taken out to watch movies on a little DVD player or a portable -- a laptop. And the scene I saw when I came up there was -- well, to back up, we were chained. But the chain -- we just had the loose chain, that was like the -- you know, the ball and chain without the ball, if we wanted to run or do whatever, that would slow us down.

So the group of us, we were chained when we went to see the movie. As I came in there were banks of, you know, seats, just boards elevated so -- the FARC could see the movie and whatever. There was kind of like a crude throne that was sitting near the DVD or whatever it was, a Sony...

STANSELL: They had a computer. That one was on a computer.

HOWES: A computer. I call it a throne, because, you know, it had kind of a high back on it. The rest were just banks...

Everyone took their place. You know, I had my chain wrapped around my neck; nine pounds. You're watching a movie on a little screen at night this.

Enrique, the camp commander, took his seat on the throne. He had his girlfriend on the ground between his legs, sitting on the ground, looking up at this little screen right in front of them. And all the guys were in back of him, you know, could see this little screen as they're moving back. All the low-ranking FARC, you know, the troops.

You just had the picture to me. I mean, that's, you know, equality for everybody. It's his laptop. Most of them didn't have a clue what you could do with it. He got the best view. He had the woman at his feet between his legs. I thought, "What a hypocrite this guy is."

And I just developed a severe dislike for this commander, and I would lose control as my -- my friends would tell me, try to bring me back and just start -- I'd get him in front of his troops, and I'd try to make him look as bad as he could. And he was a mean guy.

He got to the point where he said he was going to kill me one day. He took out his gun and made a cocking -- he didn't quite -- half cocked it. He said, "I'm going to kill you."

You know, I made a comment back. Then he lowered the gun. He said, "Well, I'm not going to kill you, but I'm going to ruin your day." Then he went down to my feet and he said, "I'm going to shoot you in the foot." I said it was going to be tough to march. "Well, I'll shoot you in the arm."

Finally, he just gave up. And he double chained me that day. He took Keith's chain. And so I had, what, 18 pounds of chain and lock and off we went through the jungles.

STANSELL: It was a punishment, because you spoke up.

HOWES: Yes.

STANSELL: Basically a form of torture.

HOWES: When they took him down in the helicopter, I wanted his pistol and they said it would probably go to a museum in Colombia. So I wanted just a memory of my friend Enrique that is now in -- in a jail, I assume, in Bogota, and possibly on his way to the states.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MEADE: Some of the remaining hostages' families say that they're afraid that the joy and the interest over your story, because you've been released, will overshadow the plight of their loved ones; the hundreds of people still there.

What would you like to say to those families or those hostages?

STANSELL: Mark and I were talking about that right before we started.

GONSALVES: One thing that I know is in my heart is that I won't ever forget those guys. They're like brothers to us. I have no power, the only thing I could do is talk. And try to remind people that they are there.

And I feel for them. It's almost like a bittersweet feeling that I have because I'm free right now talking to you. But on the other half, my friends are still there and they're suffering right now.

And they're in an abusive environment because the guerrilla know they're losing. And the only people that they can take it out on, is the hostages.

And only God knows what they're going -- suffering through right now. They're going to have more security, more chains, bigger chains, bigger locks.

STANSELL: I'll show you what they're suffering right here. Feel how heavy that is.

MEADE: What is this?

STANSELL: Imagine having that -- that's a lock that was put around my neck, every night. This lock, with five meters of chain, thick, one inch links, went to this neck. So this was locked around my neck like this.

The other one was locked around Marc's neck. We slept like that. Tom had the exact same thing. He slept with a Colombian captain the same way. You're sleeping with 10 pounds of chain and this lock around your neck.

Now imagine, you go to bed. Somebody comes up to you. They take your shoes, you can't move.

MEADE: They take your shoes so you can't run?

STANSELL: You can't run. You're not going to wander. And they say, excuse me, Robin, you know the government, they're real bad people. And we're going to chain you up. And it's not our fault; it's the government that's forcing us to do this.

So, I'm going to chain you around the neck every night, like a dog. And if I don't have somebody there or I think you're in a bad mood, I'm going to chain you to a tree. And I'm going to leave you like that.

And then, after I've left you in chains for three or four months, continuously 24 hours a day, I'm going to come in one day and say, hey, I think you guys are behaving good so, I'll let you out during the day because we're good people. We're good people.

And then you sit on the radio and you hear people comparing these guys to some -- as Marc said the other day, a revolutionary group? No. They don't recognize humanity. They don't recognize human rights. They're animals. They're terrorists.

Anything that you could use to describe along those lines is true. And we always thought about this when we came out. We don't want to exaggerate what happened. We just want to tell the truth and we wondered if people would talk about it.

These chains right now, this very minute, because of my rescue and because of my luck, victims, no longer just friends, but victims, with more time than us, are marching this day.

Now imagine this, you're marching through the jungle, the FARC are now panicked. I'm sure they're breaking what prisoners are left in even smaller groups.

You've got a backpack on, or a rucksack, you've got a chain around your neck. There's a guy, the chain -- it's about 10 pounds of chain, 15 feet long, that's wrapped around your neck. It looks like this, OK?

And then about three feet behind, you've got a guy holding your chain with a dog leash. And then he has got a rifle pointed at your back. And they're waiting for the order, for a noise to say, hey, here comes the rescue, and then it's over.

And you've marched like that 10 years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Rick Sanchez, here at the CNN center in Atlanta. More of Robin Meade's exclusive interview in just a moment, let's bring you up to date on what's going on right now. Those three American hostage she's been interview, they're going to be reuniting with family. We've just gotten these pictures in from Sarasota, Florida. They've been held hostage for five years by Colombian rebels, the FARC, in the jungles of Colombia. As we get more information their transfer tonight, we'll bring it to you, and the reunion.

Also federal regulators are poring over financial records of California-based IndyMac bank. The FDIC seized control of the failed bank yesterday, it cold be the costliest bank failure in U.S. history when all is said and done.

Personal finance guru Suze Orman and our senior business correspondent Ali Velshi is going to weigh in on the IndyMac Bank collapse coming up at 10:00 Eastern to break this down on what it means to you and all of us really.

Also, former New York Yankees player and broadcaster Bobby Mercer has died of complications of brain cancer we just learned. Mercer spent nearly four decades with the Yankees, either on the field or in the broadcast booth. Many said he would be the next Mickey Mantle, in many ways he was. He was 62.

Family and friends are remembering Tony Snow, the 53-year-old former white house press secretary and TV commentator died after a second battle with colon cancer. He is survived by his wife and three children.

I'm Rick Sanchez. Again, the very latest as we break down the bank failure for you, what it means to you. Now back Robin Meade's exclusive interview with three soldiers. Then the Larry King's interview with Ingrid Betancourt as well coming up tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MEADE: You've been watching a special presentation, "Hostages to Heroes," about three former American hostages rescued from the jungles of Colombia.

Hi, everyone. I'm Robin Meade. They granted their first exclusive interview to me here in this building in San Antonio. Can you imagine the barbaric conditions they had lived under for so long that it became normal to them?

HOWES: We did a 24 day grueling march. We got to what was a prison camp, very crude prison camp and we were talking to each other and that was kind of a security blanket, it was so nice to - we'd sit and we'd just tell stories and keep us calm because in the beginning this was a real shock. The conditions were very, very bad.

One day the camp boss came in and said you guys won't be able to talk between you anymore. Then another day or so I guess ...

STANSELL: (Inaudible), yeah.

HOWES: Then we heard we couldn't talk to the guards. So basically the only people we could talk to was when the camp boss came in or his boss came by. And that went on for about eight months, something like that. I voiced got - we lost them because we could only whispers between us. You know, shh, shh, shh.

MEADE: Your voice changed.

STANSELL: You lost it. Just go for a few months without talking and when he said we might pass if - real quick - if we brush by each other and I'm going to wash a plate we brush by and we just try to get a little contact and you guys can't - no one spoke English there.

GONSALVES: And we were threatened if we did speak they would separate us even further apart so we wouldn't even have visual contact and the truth is we were very worried about that. We wanted to be able to see each other at the minimum.

HOWES: That was huge. To be able to talk, be together.

GONSALVES: And we were so isolated when you talk about current events that it was a surprise to us to find out about the invasion of Iraq. We couldn't. It was hard to believe. The Iraq War had happened and finished before we had even heard about it.

STANSELL: We knew nothing about it.

Heard one day, one thing, something about Tiger Woods, a blip at the Master's. A guard came over with a radio and he's got a short wave on and he tuned it to English, I don't know if it was just to play with us or it was just to play with us and I just caught Tiger Woods at the Master's and I looked at Mark and they saw that keyed up part and he turns it away and so that's hey, what about Tiger Woods. And we must have talked about Tiger Woods two or three days.

But we're immersed in information here on a daily basis as Americans. There, we're just stuck in a box as Tom called it early on, guys, we just may be in a black hole. We didn't realize at that point how big of a hole because you can't conceptualize it in your mind what's about to go on. So we disappeared and it is tough.

HOWES: Given out here (ph) the scene (ph) that you're in to tie into that, in the initial camp, later we learned, this was called Tablamedia (ph) in Spanish, it's Tablamedia (ph) in English that's Board and Half because that's the space that the other prisoners that had been in this camp and left it months earlier. But, it was just a shack in the woods. I don't know the size. But, it was plenty big for the three of us. But it had chain link on two sides, corrugated tin, or whatever, on the top. And rough cut, chain sawed boards for the other walls. The door had bailing wire running through the door and around.

But it came in, there's a rat's nest on the ceiling so then all the debris from the rat's nest came to the floor. The pigs I think often you know, they roamed or they slept under us. The bats would be flying by -- I think -- did they make it through the chain link? I know they ...

STANSELL: Smaller and smaller vampire bats that fly. It was actually -- they could sit there between you and I here and they could just fly circles around us while we're talking. And when it gets dark and you sit here and we're sitting there on the ground inside his house and there's a bat flying around you. It's something that -- it's a new environment that people -- if I just told you this, you probably say, well this guy, maybe he's a little off. He's not telling the truth. You have to experience it in the barbarism of these people, the conditions in which they maintain people. If you were to tell me that -- what I know and what I've lived -- if you would have told me this before, that this is how it was, I'd doubt you. I'd say, you know, maybe that guy is exaggerating.

MEADE: Or that you'd survive it.

HOWES: We got used to it. You know, we went into buildings like that many times...

STANSELL: We lived like that.

HOWES: We'd sleep on drug lab floors. That was normal for us.

ANNOUNCER: Robin Meade's exclusive interview begins in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: "Hostages to Heroes," a Robin Meade exclusive.

MEADE: What has been the most surprising thing that you learned happened in the five years you were being held, now you learned it afterwards?

GONSALVES: Well, there's a lot of things. I look at the cell phones, they've all got cameras now, they're tiny, they do movies, they do Internet. I got a new phone I just got yesterday and I can go on the Internet and read my e-mail and write e-mail and it's incredible. It wasn't like that before.

The computers, we - Tom and I, Keith too. We would talk about what kind of advancements there are in the computers. Is it a 300 mmx Megahertz now? No, it's some other kind of two processors in one ...

STANSELL: You have to remember in our job, we're working in an aircraft, we're working in something that's technically sophisticated equipment that we work with day in and day out. And for us to be taken from that world where we're connected, more so than the average person and you're just taken out of it. Imagine how you're connected and for five and a half years, boom, they turn off the lights and you're wondering what's going on and Tom's got a funny story.

HOWES: We went from the information age to the Stone Age to the information all over again. But I don't have any funny stories. I won't have for years.

GONSALVES: There was a newspaper, a piece of a newspaper that came in one time and inside of it was a little leaflet, an advertisement for a computer company. It's a Dell, it was a Dell advertisement. And we looked at that and drooled over it thinking - and we were trying to school ourselves thinking, what is this?

HOWES: Well, we were swinging from our hammocks reading this Dell ad for years.

GONSALVES: Tom carried that ad for about two years.

HOWES: A little less, actually.

GONSLAVES: So we'd pull it out every once in a while and we'd be like, yeah, I'd like this computer, or I'd like - and it was a way for us to escape from it but we were also trying to keep plugged in with what's going on in the outside world, all the advancements in technology.

ANNOUNCER: Robin Meade's exclusive interview continues in a moment.

GONSALVES: I was a family man, very motivated for the mission and my job and because of that I didn't spend as much time with my family as I should, would have liked and what these guys are saying is I was a normal American, I loved my country. But I took things for granted like the freedom to drive down the road with the windows of my car open. And I was safe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: "Hostages to Heroes." A Robin Meade exclusive.

GONSALVES: There are people right now at this moment being held hostage in the jungle. In this exact moment right now they're being punished because we got rescued successfully. Why don't you just imagine that? Right now, right now they're wearing chains around their necks. They're going to get up early tomorrow morning, they're going to put a heavy backpack on their backs and they're going to be forced to march with that chain on their necks while a guerrilla with an automatic weapon is holding the other end of that chain like a dog.

Those are innocent people. Those are people that were fighting or working for their country and all they want is what we want and what God had the grace to give us. Freedom.

MEADE: Let's talk about who you were before this and who you are now, after this. Let's just go down the line.

HOWES: OK. Who I was before this was a guy that was kind of a typical American guy that was working, busy working, running through a life full-speed. You know, I had a little boy when we crashed that was 5 years old. Another one 15. Had a wife who was back in the States. We just got a house. I had 12 nights in the house of my dreams in the States. I haven't seen again. I haven't seen it yet. And I was flying out of Bogota, Colombia, on a rotation down there. Twenty-eight days in Colombia, 14 days back in the States.

And suddenly, we drop off the face of the Earth, as I've said before. Out of the Information Age. And what I had is five and a half years, as I see now, of reflections. And I reexamined every part of my life. They say as you get old, at my age, you start doing that anyway, but I had a lot of time to reflect on my failures, my successes and beat up everything I have done.

In a lot of ways that's positive, because going back to my marriage, you know, I've got through the help of my friends, lists of marriage hints. Everything that I'd done, I kind of get another game plan on how I look at things. And I'd like to say that's, you know, in a way a bit of maturity or a lot more reflection than anybody needs, but a lot of reflection. And I think a lot of that's going to help me, as I continue on. So I'm looking at the positive side of things.

MEADE: Sounds like it. Keith, how about you? Who were you, if you can tell me in a couple sentences, and who are you now?

STANSELL: I would have to say it's a parallel to what Tom went through. I'm a person that has redefined my values system because of so much time reflecting. And something we always thought -- this is a value that we all have now, an appreciation for the smallest thing. A cold glass of water. Just seeing your kid's photo. Or a phone call from your mom, in Mark's case. We wanted to take out of there that value that we learned to appreciate. And hopefully, hopefully, it never leaves me. I have a fear that this moment that we're living, of appreciation for the things that we missed and we learned. That sense that we have in our hearts for that, never leaves us. It's an appreciation for life, of the things that we believe are very important in life. And I think it's a parallel to all that just ...

HOWES: Talk about the families ...

STANSELL: That's it. That's why we're here.

HOWES: That was the biggest thing when we looked at it when everything else was taken away.

STANSELL: The family, nothing else.

HOWES: The family was -- and I'd like everyone that listens to us now, that's running through their lives at full speed. The family becomes the biggest thing to us. Thinking about the kids, the wives, mom and dad. We forget that when we're going full speed.

When you're in our situation, we realize what's important. We know. The three of us know better than any of you guys out there, it's the family. And I'd like everyone to listen very closely to that.

MEADE: Who were you? And who are you, as a result of this?

GONSALVES: I was just a family man. Very motivated for the mission and my job. And because of that, I didn't spend as much time with my family as I should -- would have liked. And what these guys are saying is, I was a normal American, I loved my country. But, I took things for granted like the freedom to drive down the road with my windows in my car open. And I was safe.

Who I am now is even more of a family man who will spend as much time as I can with my children. And who loves my country now, more than ever. This is the best place to live, in my opinion. I love the American way, I love the values that our country was founded on. I hope we never lose those values. And I'm just so happy to be here again.

MEADE: This might be a nice way to end it. I read that, Keith, you sneaked out a marriage proposal, I believe, to your girlfriend, while you were in captivity, through another person who was being released.

STANSELL: That's it.

MEADE: Did you finally get an answer yet?

STANSELL: Oh, yes. I got an answer. I've got a thumbs up. It's a big yes from my fiancee now. And these two guys, we were just talking about it now. The mother of the twins, that's the next best step for me. Hopefully...

MEADE: When did she answer you? STANSELL: Immediately. The first time that I was able to talk to her. She had answered me over the radio. Essentially, she gave the answer over the radio. But I wanted to see it face to face and I got a good answer. I'm a lucky man.

MEADE: When you saw each other for the first time...

STANSELL: Immediately, immediately. She -- because as I told you, when I was escorted to see my children the first time, I opened the door and my kids run to me, Papa, Papa. And you know, they jumped on me. And I said, there you are boys. And I looked at me and I said, this is a go, right? She said, that's it. This is our family. That style of communicating, that was it. There was never a doubt.

MEADE: So if you found yourself in the same place could you forgive people who did this to you. Hear the former hostages reaction to that question.

ANNOUNCER: Robin Meade's exclusive interview continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MEADE: Will you forgive these people? Do you hold hate against these people? Do you hold a grudge for what they've done to you?

GONSALVES: The way I look at what has happened to us is that, I don't hate them. But I hate what they do. And they -- somebody has to stop them from terrorizing the whole country of Colombia. For victimizing innocent people.

The individuals that are committing these things, I don't hate them. Because there's a real hope that they can be rehabilitated and stop their crimes. Those things that they do, yes. I hate those things. They - nobody should do that to other people, never.

MEADE: I promised that I would ask you at the end if there was any detail of your story that I did not touch on today that you think, I really want to get this out here. Maybe it's the flag that you're holding. Maybe it's something else.

GONSALVES: We have a plan that we've talked about for years while we were in the jungle. They, the time we finally go free, we're going to go on a motorcycle ride across our country. We've named it, it's called the Freedom Ride.

STANSELL: We're going to take our time.

GONSALVES: And we're going to take our time. We're going to enjoy the countryside of the United States and we're going to get on some bikes and we're just going to live.

STANSELL: And we're going to go to important places that represent what this country means.

STANSELL: We won, we won. This is the thing. We won. It's nothing special, just three guys on our bikes, get out the camcorders, Marc's the tech guy and will be in charge of that one and we're just going to appreciate the United States. That's it.

HOWES: We won because a lot of people that we haven't heard talked about very much. The military people involved, they allowed us to win, they were the heroes behind the scenes.

GONSALVES: They saved us.

STANSELL: We'll be thinking about them.

HOWES: We'll never forget them.

GONSALVES: Always appreciate that risk that they took to save us.

HOWES: As Marc said, what was it, the best rescue in the history of the world. I like the way he termed it.

STANSELL: It was perfect.

MEADE: I'm so grateful that they asked me to do their first exclusive interview and I have to tell you that before we did the interview I was told they are unsure of themselves, uncomfortable, they're nervous about doing this but as you saw, an entire hour was filled up with really gripping details and conversation, even though, despite everything you've watched, there's so much about their story that hasn't even touched the surface just yet.

So thank you to our viewers for your interest in this story and I'm told when they're ready to talk more that they will.

For now, though, from San Antonio, I'm Robin Meade.

Thank you guys so much. Are you off to home today or tomorrow?

UNIDENTIFED MALE: It's flexible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot going on.

MEADE: All right. OK, thank you so much for the honor of telling your story and I know there's a lot more to be said, so we look forward to that. Most of all we look forward to having you home. Welcome home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.