U.S. POWs send video messages home
'Mom, Dad, love you'
April 30, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- After weeks spent mostly in isolation, three captured U.S. soldiers were briefly let out of their Yugoslav military prison cells on Friday to meet with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, in scenes that were videotaped and shown worldwide .
In their last media appearance, on Serb television shortly after they were seized March 31, the three young men appeared sullen, haggard and battered.
This time, the GIs looked washed, rested and in better spirits. They smiled as Jackson pointed to the camera and one said, "Mom, Dad, love you."
Staff Sgt. Andrew Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Staff Sgt. Christopher Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan; and Spc. Steven Gonzales, 22, of Huntsville, Texas, all appeared in good physical condition.
Jackson met with the three individually and as a group, as part of an effort to secure the soldiers' release -- an effort rejected by the government of President Slobodan Milosevic.
Jackson took his petition to a higher power after he delivered family messages, Bibles and other books to the captive soldiers.
"In good faith, we find reconciliation. If the lion and the lamb can lie together, we can all lie together and find elusive peace and connect families again, between our nations and around the world," Jackson said in prayer.
The group prayer session Jackson led was the first time the three soldiers, all wearing their camouflage U.S. Army fatigues, have been together for an extended period since they were captured on a routine patrol near the Yugoslav-Macedonia border.
Hours prior to the prison visit, Jackson was told by Yugoslav Foreign Minister Zivadin Jovanovic that the soldiers would not be released while NATO airstrikes continue.
The same day, NATO intensified its attack on Yugoslavia, pummeling Belgrade and other sites in 600 bombing sorties, more than twice the usual number.
In the individual meeting with Gonzales, Jackson told him, "You are a hero. People know about you all around the world."
Gonzales, who has already marked one birthday as a POW, smiled broadly, his eyes looking down at his feet humbly.
"I hope it's all over soon," Gonzales said. "I miss you, Mom, Dad. I'm sorry you have to go through so much agony, and I hope to see you all soon. Love you."
Gonzales said he was eating three meals a day, including "bread with every meal" and has a bed to sleep in. He also said he's doing pushups and gets "to walk around."
He thanked his parents and others for sending messages that included a list of Bible verses to read daily. Since Jackson presented him with a Bible, Gonzales said he will now look up verses on his own.
"Thanks everybody for your thoughts and prayers. They've been needed and they're a big help," he said. "I really miss home and hope to be back soon."
Jackson greeted Stone with a bear hug and told him, "Your parents love you very much.
Stone, who had what appeared to be a healing bruise by his right eye, said he has not had contact with other prisoners but is doing okay, considering the circumstances. He also said his captors speak English.
At one point, he managed to crack a joke, asking, "Do we get a pay raise?"
But thoughts of home were more difficult for the sergeant.
"To my wife, Tricia, and son, Ryan, I love you," said Stone, his voice cracking.
"You have to make the best of a tough situation," Jackson told Stone.
Jackson met briefly with Ramirez, but the meeting was cut short by air raid sirens. Audio was lost before that visit.
"It wasn't their fault. As long as I got to see him, that's all that matters at this point," said Ramirez's mother, Vivian. Hopefully they'll be able to interview him some other day."
She said her son looked healthy and she was pleased that he was smiling. "I'm glad that (Jackson) went out there, was able to talk to him and encourage him more."
The soldier's mother said she sent an audio cassette message to her son.
"I just told him that I loved him very much. I told him to take care -- not to worry -- that we were doing all we could to bring him back home," said Vivian Ramirez.
She said viewing the videotape of her son made her want to hug him and that she is waiting for the day when military officials tell her: "Pack, you're on your way to Germany" for a reunion with him.
Although Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D-Illinois), a New York Times reporter and a CNN cameraman were permitted to witness Jackson's visit with the captured soldiers, other U.S. religious leaders who traveled with Jackson to Yugoslavia were excluded.
Jackson said his visit benefited the soldiers, regardless of whether he wins their release.
"Their spirits were lifted. They felt quite good about it," he said.
"They are Americans who have a great sense of honor for what they are doing for the country. They met us today with a great sense of dignity and ... our country should be proud of them," Jackson added.
Jackson said he would continue to appeal to the Yugoslav government on behalf of the men. He is expected to meet with Milosevic Saturday.
Jesse Jackson to meet captured U.S. soldiers in Yugoslavia
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