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Former hostage 'feeling well'

Thomas Hamill, the American contractor held hostage for three weeks in Iraq, is receiving treatment at an American military hospital in  Germany and told journalists that he was "feeling well"  on Tuesday. NBC News' Preston Mendenhall reports.
/ Source: NBC News

Thomas Hamill, the American contractor held hostage for three weeks in Iraq, was attended by Iraqi doctors who operated on his wounded right arm during captivity, a U.S. military doctor said on Tuesday. Hamill told journalists that he was "feeling well" and looking forward to being reunited with his family in Mississippi.

Twenty-four hours after leaving Iraq, Hamill appeared on a balcony with his right arm bandaged.

He made a brief statement to journalists at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, an American military hospital in southwest Germany.

"I am very glad to be back on an American installation," Hamill said, thanking "the American public and all Americans deployed in the Middle East" for their support.

Maj. Kerry Jepsen, an Air Force doctor treating Hamill, said in an interview that his patient had received medical attention from Iraqi doctors eight days after his abduction on April 9. Jepsen called the work of the Iraqi doctors consistent with treatment of the wound, which left an 8-inch wound on Hamill's arm and fractured his ulna bone.

"He does not seem to be in any acute distress or shock. He recalls his experiences well," Jepsen said.

In his statement, Hamill, 43, said his wife, Kellie, would be joining him Wednesday morning. He waved to a crowd of journalists before returning to the hospital ward.

Story of captivity emerges
Jepsen, who said he had spoken at length with Hamill about his captivity, provided details about the truck driver's 23-day ordeal. After his convoy was attacked by Iraqi insurgents, Hamill felt a burning sensation in his arm. He used an extra pair of socks on his dashboard to stem the bleeding.

"At the time of capture, he was struck on the right side of his head with a rifle butt," Jepsen said.

Jepsen said Hamill, who took the truck driving job in Iraq to make extra money to pay off debts, was moved around constantly, mostly changing locations every day. His captors spoke to him in English and regularly fed him.

The night before his escape was spent sleepless, Hamill told his doctor. Mosquitoes were biting him fiercely. Early Sunday morning, he heard the sound of vehicles that he recognized as a U.S. military convoy, rather than Iraqi trucks. He pried open the door to see, and his guard appeared to be temporarily absent.

"When he saw the patrol and he did not see his guard, he decided to make a move," Jepsen said. "He squeezed out the door and ran about a half mile."

In an exhausted state, Hamill hurdled himself toward the convoy, shouting "American!" and "POW." He told Jepsen that he pulled up his shirt to show his white skin.

"He just said, 'This is my opportunity and I'm going to make it. He's going to have to shoot me or take me out,'" Jepsen told reporters.

Jepsen could not confirm reports that Hamill had been shot. Doctors at Landstuhl have identified a "metallic fragment" lodged in his arm, but no bullet has been found. Jensen speculated that shrapnel from an IED, or improvised explosive device, was possibly responsible for his wound.

Recovery process
Hamill will undergo several operations and physical therapy to fully recover, a process expected to take up to three months, Jepsen said. He is expected to return home to his home in Macon, Miss., by the end of the week.

Although his physical condition is stable, Hamill is being treated by a team of psychologists to help him come to terms with his weeks of captivity, most of it spent in small rooms on dirt floors and under guard. He has also been debriefed by intelligence officers.

Hamill asked for a "burger, fries and a Coke" upon arriving at the hospital Monday afternoon, Jepsen said. Asked whether Hamill said he wanted to return to work in Iraq, the doctor said, "It didn't seem to be at the top of his list."