Billowing smoke filled the desert sky and the ground was littered with the burnt carcasses of fuel tankers. All around them were human bodies. It was April 9, and Iraqi insurgents had just ambushed a convoy of 19 American trucks, setting off huge explosions and a furious firefight. Just a few miles away, an Australian news cameraman, Michael Cox, saw the smoke and raced to the scene.
Michael Cox: “As we drove along the highway, it became obvious that there had been an attack. Very vicious.”
With him was Australian Broadcasting's reporter, Peter Cave.
Peter Cave: “We passed I think six trucks, well, on fire. Big holes. Some of them overturned. We saw in one of the trucks — I saw a couple of dead bodies. It was a pretty nasty scene.”
They stopped to tape the devastating scene when they saw some Iraqi's unsuccessfully try to pull a driver out of one of the burning trucks. That's when a car of masked Arab men appeared seemingly from nowhere and the camera would record an unbelievable scene.
Cave: “The carload of Mujahadeen pulled up, basically straight in front of us, right in front of the camera. All they said — they yelled in Arabic — that ‘We have an American. Come and see we have an American.’"
Though fearful for their own lives, the reporter and cameraman walked toward the car. They spotted the American in the backseat.
Cave: “He had a hood over his face. They jerked the hood off his face. They grabbed him sideways to face the camera. They treated him pretty roughly. They were quite excited. They were like school kids. They had a prize, they wanted to show their prize off — and their prize was an American.”
Cox: “The words that were in my mind were, ‘What can we do for this guy?’ You know, it's not the movies, it's real life. There was no pulling him out of the car and running for the camera vehicle and escaping.”
Cave: “I was looking him straight in the eye. His eyes softened and by the time he told his name, I think he'd come to the realization of the situation he was in. I know, I felt very sorry for him. I honestly thought that probably we were going to be the last Westerners who would seem him alive.”
And ThomasHamill didn't know if he would ever live to see his wife and children again — and the country he loves. He would endure being paraded on television as a terrorist's prize, being fed sporadically and then largely on a diet of cookies, and having his life repeatedly threatened.
Hamill spoke with NBC’s Ann Curry about his remarkable story, one of endurance, faith in God and a daring escape to freedom.
Unexpected job, far away from home
It seems unlikely that Hamill would have ended up in a place like Iraq. He's lived his entire 44 years 7,000 miles away, in rural Mississippi.
Hamill: “I think there's so many people in this country that did not ever experience, you know, living in a small town, or a small community, and being so together. And worshipping together in the churches, and it's just a wonderful thing.
Hamill and his wife Kellie are raising their two children, Torri, 12, and Thomas Jr., 14, in the small town of Macon. He bought his father's dairy farm and drove a truck on the side to make ends meet. But last year, with milk prices dropping, Hamill found himself in a dire financial situation.
Hamill: I was losing money. And I talked to my wife. I said, ‘I don't want to give up.’ But it had got to the point that, you know, something had to happen.”
That something turned out to be a job offer to drive trucks in Iraq for Halliburton Corp. subsidiary KBR, a private American company hired by the military to deliver crucial fuel supplies to U.S. troops.
Hamill hoped the pay of $70,000 a year would save him financially, but that wasn't his only reason for going to Iraq. When he was younger, Hamill tried to join the U.S. military but couldn't because of a medical condition.
Hamill: “I wasn't able to join the military, and support my country the way I wanted to. And I said, this is an opportunity for me to serve my country. And I was so proud of President Bush, for standing up for these people.”
Though bombings, shootings and lawlessness were rampant in Iraq, Hamill's wife, Kellie, supported his decision to go there in September 2003, a few months after Saddam fell.
Kellie Hamill: “The way I see it, the man makes the decisions. And you stand behind him and support him. I mean, it was something he needed to do and we supported him enough to let him do it.”
But Hamill was on the job for only a few months when he got a frightening call — his wife needed emergency open heart surgery. He went home. Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq deteriorated. Kidnappings became rampant and the violence increased. Still, Hamill decided he would return.
Curry: “It must have been hard to go back.”
Hamill: “It was. It was.”
Curry: “What did you tell yourself?”
Hamill: “I had to go back. I hated to have to leave my wife, but I left her knowing that she was in good hands.”
Danger increases for workers in Iraq
But the situation became even graver than Hamill could imagine. Already, dozens of his fellow KBR colleagues had been killed. Yet Hamill felt he had a duty to his job, no matter what the risk.
Curry: “You knew your job was vital to the mission.”
Curry: “The US mission in Iraq. And so, you put up with driving through kill zones.”
Curry: “To get that fuel through.”
Curry: “Which meant what? Getting shot at.”
Hamill: “It meant getting shot at. And it was — and we got shot at on numerous occasions. You know, from day one. We were shot at.”
Curry: “You never thought about it?”
Hamill: “Nah. You couldn't think about it. If you thought about it, I mean, it would worry you sick.”
Then, in April 2004, Hamill's eighth month as a driver in Iraq, the violence and unrest reached a critical mass. Four American security consultants were ambushed in Fallujah and murdered. Their bodies burned and dragged through the streets, two were hanged from a bridge. That only increased anxiety among the drivers. But Hamill was undeterred.
Curry: “The killing of four Americans in Fallujah, in that horrible, horrible attack. And you're focus is still on your mission…You're taking a gulp, aren't you?”
Hamill: “If it — well, it's our honor. You go forward. You don't back up. I don't back up.
I may not take another step for a long time. But if the step I take's going to be forward. I don't back up.”
Because of the violence, truck drivers like Hamill wore flack jackets and helmets. And because they were unarmed, military escorts in Humvees surrounded every convoy, and soldiers with M16's were placed in various trucks.
Disaster strikes with attack on the convoy
But on Good Friday, April 9, a last minute route change brought Hamill and 19 other truckers carrying huge loads of fuel into the cross hairs of an ambush only a few miles outside of Baghdad.
Hamill: “I just heard that the communication that we're taken on fire. We're taking, you know, small arms fire.”
Hamill was the convoy leader in the first truck sitting next to the driver. He quickly assumed command. Tommy Zimmerman, who was injured in the attack, was one of the truck drivers in Hamill's convoy.
Tommy Zimmerman: “I can think of no better man than I would've chose to have been under than Tommy Hamill that day… My truck was the first truck to get shot down. My fuel pressure gauge dropped. My engine started trying to die. I grabbed the radio and called Tommy.”
Hamill immediately radioed the soldiers guarding them for help. They were able to rescue Zimmerman, but then more tankers came under attack.
Hamill: “And the lieutenant radioed back, ‘We've got a truck on fire in the road up here.’ And as we — I could see just there was a black smoke. And there was a truck already on fire. And he said, ‘We've got to get off of this road.’ Because the smoke was completely covering the highway. And you couldn't see what you driving into.”
Hamill tried to send a message back to headquarters from his computer.
Hamill: “And just about that time was when I heard the bullet hit the door and hit my arm.”
Now, he was bleeding profusely and the attack on the convoy only intensified. RPGs, rocket propelled grenades, were being fired at them.
Hamill: “RPG's, mortars were detonating above the ground. I could see the black smoke puffing. And the mortars were going off close to us. And our truck was having trouble. We were breaking down. And our other trucks were all passing us.
Hamill instructed the driver to get off the highway. Moving at only about 15 miles per hour, he was desperate to find safety.
Hamill: “And there was a truck that had passed. And he was maybe a quarter of a mile, an eighth of a mile in front of us. And I don't know whether an RPG hit him or what — the whole truck just blew. It was in flames from front to rear. And at about that time, one of the soldiers ran up beside the door where I was on my side and got on the running board. And he was holding onto the mirror. And he was firing. And I was looking. And you just — every building, corner you came up to there was just — you could see an AK. All you saw was an AK stuck around the corner. And he was firing. And this soldier… he stood there taking fire. And he was firing. And about that time he realized he was having trouble. So, he swung around and got on the hood of the truck. And he was firing from the hood of the truck.”
Soon the truck broke down and came to a stop. Under intense fire, Hamill along with the soldier and driver became sitting ducks. Then an American humvee came to the rescue.
Hamill: “At that instance, the Humvee rolls around in front of us. The soldier on the hood, he falls off on the ground and picks himself up. The right door on the rear comes open. He's in.”
The driver of the truck got in, too, but then it suddenly took off without Hamill.
Hamill: “And I'm four or five steps from the back of it when, you know, I'm not blaming anybody for this. It was a chaotic situation. The driver… he knew there was only going to be two drivers… you know, two passengers, either one or two. He wasn't expecting three. And when the two got in, away he roared. And —”
Curry: “He left you?”
Curry: “And you were just four or five steps away?
Curry: “And you saw your chance to escape pulled away from you?”
Hamill: “Yes, and I said this can't be possible. I was too close to being free. Why did this happen? Did the Lord… did this happen because He wanted this to happen. There's a purpose for this."
Suddenly Hamill was surrounded by burning fuel trucks, all alone and wounded. As he watched his only chance for escape drive away, he realized there was no way out.
Left behind, fighting to survive
Curry: ”You tried to crawl, couldn't do that. And so you started to roll away from the scene hoping to avoid capture?
Curry: “But that's not what happened?”
Hamill: ”No, there were a couple of teenagers that had came out on the same side of the road that I was farther down the road. And they started pointing and yelling in Arabic. And at that point, I looked back to the roadway. And there was a just lone gunman standing there kind of crouched and shoving his AK like he was going to pull the trigger.”
Curry:”Pointing at you?”
Hamill: “Yeah, pointing at me. I said, ‘Well, this is it. He's — this is it.’"
But the gunman didn't shoot and then others in the area started to move towards him.
Hamill: “The two youngsters that had spotted me ran up. And they went through. They grabbed the [satellite] phone. They grabbed my wallet. And they took everything that was in my pockets and took my flak jacket and my Kevlar helmet and away they went. And about that time, there were others coming across the road. It was a crowd. And they grabbed a hold —they were all around me — carried me back across the road. They were shouting.”
Curry: “When you realized that you had no power over these people, that they were in complete control of you, you were now a hostage. You were a captive.”
Curry: “Now, you are a proud man. You're an independent man.To be in that situation must have hit you hard.”
Hamill: “It was — I mean, I knew what happened in Fallujah with the four contractors. And I knew this was a mob situation that this could get out of hand. And the car pulled up at just about that time. And they got out, yelling at them in Arabic. And they all backed away. And then they put me in the car and away we went.”
Not long afterward, the car suddenly stopped in the middle of the highway. The abductors called over the Australian newscrew that happened to see the smoke and rushed to the ambush scene where they made pictures that would soon be seen worldwide. There was nothing the Australian crew could do but report the abduction to the first American soldiers they saw miles down the road. And that was the last anyone heard from Hamill for the next 48 hours, until the group holding him released a chilling vide, with Hamill in front of an Iraqi flag.
Hamill begins time as hostage in Iraq
Hamill's captors demanded that the Marines besieging the city of Fallujah withdraw or they would kill him and burn his body. But coalition spokesman Dan Senor insisted there'd be no deal.
Hamill: “They just wanted me to identify who I was, you know, how old I was and where I was from and — you know, who I worked for, what I was doing there.”
Curry: “You thought maybe Kellie might see that video some day?”
Hamill: “I knew she would.”
Curry: “What's going through your mind knowing that this might be the last image that Kellie will ever have of you?”
Hamill: “I explained to her when I came over here. I said, ‘I can go over there. And I can not come back alive.’ I said, ‘That can happen.’ So I you know, she was prepared for that and prepared for the worst.”
As terrifying as the video message was, it was the first time Kellie knew her husband of 17 years was alive. She and her family pleaded for his safe return.
Scott Boyd, editor of the Macon Beacon, had gotten to know Kellie Hamill when he did a feature story about her husband after he first went over to Iraq. After Hamill was captured, Boyd he spent a lot to time talking with Kellie.
Scott Boyd: “I went to visit her, just to offer her my support and my prayers and anything I could help her do. And I could tell them that she was really, really taking it hard. She was worried about what they were doing to him. And just generally it was just a devastating type situation for, as you can imagine, for anybody to see a loved one be treated like that.”
Two days after his capture, on a gloomy Easter Sunday in Macon, worshippers prayed for the man many of them knew simply as Tommy. Hamill's capture by insurgents half a world away had suddenly brought the war startlingly close to his home town.
Curry: “The people who were holding you, how did they treat you?”
Hamill: ”The men that had me the first week, I don't know if they were being forced, you know, to watch me. Because they were a little more humane. You know, they fed me on a regular basis.”
Seven thousand miles away, Hamill's captors saw that tape of Kellie pleading for his safe return and apparently tried to use it against him.
Hamill: “They were asking me a lot of questions about my family, if I had children, you know, and things like that. And they would tell me they've seen my family on TV. And so I figured the mind game was probably the first phase. And I don't know whether they had several steps that they were going through. But, you know, and the worst treatment was going to come later, I didn’t know.”
Curry: “You didn't want to show them fear?”
Hamill: “I knew that you couldn't show them fear. I learned that. That they dwell on fear if you give in to them. You know, that gives them a big high. They want to see somebody afraid. And I really didn't have to try to act like I was, because I really wasn't afraid. I don't know why. I guess the Lord was with me.”
Curry: “Did it seem that these people were connected in to a bigger organization? Or did they just seem like a bunch of guys who just picked you up and didn't know what to do with you?”
Hamill: “In the beginning, I had that feeling they weren't trained. And I know on one occasion, one of the guys had left his AK laying by the door. And I thought for a minute, I said, I don't know whether this thing's loaded or not."
Hamill decided that trying to grab the weapon was just too risky. So he let the opportunity to escape pass by, and as his captivity continued he was treated more harshly.
Hamill: “They made no bones about what they would do to me. They shackled me at night. They came in. They started shackling me when they would move me. Before that, they wouldn't shackle me. They'd put these shackles on my hands. They'd cut the circulation off to my fingers just immediately. Because the shackles were so tight on my arm. And my feet were the same way. And I knew that, well, this may be a phrase process. And I started praying a little harder."
And the praying continued in Hamill's hometown as well. Shortly after Hamill was taken captive, his neighbors lined the streets of Macon with yellow ribbons and American flags.
Boyd: “Well Knoxby county is a deeply religious community. And the people in Knoxby county have a tremendous amount of faith that prayer can work wonders. And I think that that's what the majority of Knoxby county when — countians who were worried about the situation kept faith that Tommy Hamill somehow would find some way home.”
Situation continues to deteriorate
On April 13, four days after Hamill was abducted, there was more grim news. The remains of four of the drivers from Hamill's convoy were discovered, buried in a shallow grave near the road where they were attacked. Their bodies had been mutilated. And as the days passed and Iraq continued to descend further into chaos, Hamill's captors became progressively more menacing.
Curry: “You could hear them begin to threaten you?”
Curry: “What did they say?”
Hamill: “They would come in. And the little mud hut they had me in, they had bricked up the window. And they would have the rifle in the hand. They would point to it. And they would say point to the window. Then they would point to the door, like, don't go by the door. Don't go by the window. And then one of them would take his, you know, his finger and go across his neck like he was taken a knife and cutting my throat… I was just laying there. And I said, you know, no problem. I'm not going by the window. Don't worry. I'm not going by the window. I'm right here. And I prayed. I said, you know, I remembered the freedom ride of the Vietnam veterans when they came home. And I remember the stories of what they went through. And I said, hey, I'm an American. They were Americans. I said I can take whatever they took."
And all the time he was held, Hamill suffered. The wound to his arm had become infected and he was in serious pain.
Curry: “You had surgery done on your arm.”
Curry: “By people who were your captors.”
Curry: ”You were awake the whole time.”
Hamill: “I was. They gave me a local anesthetic but I was there watching everything they were doing.”
Curry: “They're slicing at your skin.”
Hamill: “I knew that the Lord had probably sent these guys here, had sent me to them. That if it hadn't have been — if they hadn't have, you know, performed that surgery, I would have probably lost my arm because it was that bad.”
Two weeks into his ordeal, Hamill had been moved almost a dozen times, and each day his situation grew more desperate.
Hamill: “They move me to this place. And it was out in the desert. they had me blindfolded, but they said they would be back every other day to bring me food. They left water there. And they left packages of cookies, you know, for me to eat. They had blocked the door up, the entrance.”
Hamill was left locked up alone in the desert building. A curious Iraqi passerby and his son made a small hole in the door and Hamill tried communicating with them.
Hamill: “I went over to where he was at and trying to talk to him. And I said, ‘Can you go to American soldiers? Can you go to Iraqi police? Or can you open the door and let me out and take me to them?’ And he was speaking in Arabic. And he was just there for just a little bit. And they walked off and left. And I never saw them again.”
Curry: “There had to be moments when you thought, I don't know if I'm ever going to get home alive."
Hamill: “I knew I was going to make it home. I talked to God the first day. I said, ‘Lord, I don't know what you've got planned.’ I said, ‘If you're planning for me to, you know, to die here, you know, I'm ready to go to heaven. I'm ready.’”
Fighting for survival, fighting for freedom
But heaven would have to wait as long as Hamill could hear American helicopters flying over the house where he was being held. He improvised a mirror and tried to signal the chopper crews.
Hamill: “I had a little metal plate. And I stuck it out an opening and was trying to get the sunlight to reflect off it. And it was a medivac helicopter [that] flew overhead. And that's what got me wondering if I'm going to be able to, you know, flag anything down.”
Hamill's attempt to send out an SOS failed. So one morning, when he heard helicoptors in the distance, he decided to roll the dice. He would make a break for it, even if his guards might be waiting outside to shoot him.
Hamill: “And I started prying the door open enough where I could get out to the latch. And I opened the latch and I opened the door. I ran out. And I run up on this mound of dirt and just waving and… had my arm up in the air where I had the bandage. It's at that time, I said, well, I'll take my shirt off. That if another one comes by, they'll see that I'm white. There were two Chinooks. And they were coming right at the hill I was standing on. I could have taken a lasso and lassoed the wheel on it. And I'm looking at the pilot when he comes by, I said, they've got to see me. They've got to see me."
So, there he was, half-naked in the blazing desert sun, flailing his wounded arm toward the helicopters that were so low they couldn't miss him — but they did.
Hamill: “And they went on by and that's when I thought, I said, this is not going to work. You know, they're not going to notice me. I said, this is not the place the Lord has picked or they would have spotted me. He doesn't want me to be found.”
So there Hamill stood stranded somewhere in the Iraqi desert with no choice but to retreat to his makeshift prison.
Faith and endurance lead to success
Hamill had briefly escaped his captors and narrowly missed being rescued by U.S Forces. He was forced to go back to his makeshift prison. But he figured he'd have another chance to escape. But the next morning, that window of opportunity had slammed shut.
Hamill: “That night they came and moved me again. They moved me again to a different place.”
Curry: “To the final place?”
Hamill: “No,no, I moved several more times.”
Finally he ended up in this hut in a remote village about 40 miles from the where he was captured. Inside, what he came to call "death row," Hamill slept fitfully on top of plastic and a thin mattress on the floor.
Hamill: “Mosquitoes were really bad there where we were at and I couldn’t sleep.”
He was in a state of exhaustion, but still plotting his escape. He got his chance on May 2, his 23rd day in captivity, a day that began routinely enough.
Hamill: “They had gotten me up and I went outside and I came back in, and they locked the door. The sun was starting to come through the door and the mosquitoes were leaving. I just dozed off asleep. I woke up and I was really hungry and I had some cookies they left for me.”
Just then he heard a familiar rumble, music to his ears.
Hamill: “I heard a sound of something that sounded like a diesel engine, and it sounded — it was running, running like it should have been running.”
He says it was different than the sound of most Iraqi vehicles. Was this the sign he had been waiting for?
Hamill: “I jumped up immediately and I ran to the door. I pushed hard against it and leaned out enough that I could look out with my left eye. And I saw the humvees. And I immediately noticed that the soldiers were on foot.”
What he saw has become a familiar image on the Iraqi landscape, American G.I.'s, heavily armed, controlling an area. And though they were a third of a mile away from his hut, they seemed within reach. He knew he'd have to run to catch them.
Hamill: “I said, this is good. They don’t have time to load and drive off and leave me. I said I've got time to get out of here and run to them.”
But he didn't know what was on the other side of the door. His captors? Armed with their AK-47s?
Hamill: “If I've got a guard out here, if he's there and he shoots me, this is the day — this is the day, that, I mean the Lord has picked this day for me. And I went through the door, couldn't push it open, but I got it to push to one side enough that I could squeeze out. Then I said, this is it.”
He broke free and started running after the soldiers. These three men, attached to the first infantry division, were part of the convoy.
Sgt. Deidreich: “My platoon was assigned a mission to go check an oil pipeline that had been bursted. Just as we were doing that, we seen a man running through the field. He was yelling, screaming.”
Sgt. Byrne: ”When I first saw him running with his arms flying over his head, I thought, who is this crazy guy?"
The soldiers saw a scruffy man with a beard running after them. Hamill was conscious of the potential for confusion.
Sgt. Deidreich: “At first, we thought it was an Iraqi farmer that either needed help or wanted to talk to us or needed water or something from us.”
Hamill: “I started taking my shirt off at that point so that I let them know that I'm white. And I need to show that I was in distress.”
Sgt. Deidreich: “He was falling over a couple of times.”
Hamill: “So I stumbled intentionally and just fell down on the ground. I got up and showed him my right arm with the bandage.”
Sgt. Deidreich: “He didn’t appear to be a threat, so we didn’t point our weapons at him or anything like that. And me and my fire team started to move towards the man. As we move closer we can hear him yell, ‘I'm an American.’"
Hamill: “I started hollering I'm an American POW, American POW. And several of them started walking toward me and I knew then that that was it, it was over. It was over.”
Sgt. Deidreich: “He looked mentally drained. His face was scruffy. It looks like he hadn't shaved in a while. And you could see his wound obviously on his arm was bandaged up. So, you could obviously tell he'd been wounded.”
The most important phone call
But after all the stress Hamill had been under, this was a moment to rejoice.
Sgt. Deidreich: “I don't know how to explain it. It was the greatest day of — it was — there was so much excitement in the air. Everyone was high-fiving each other. We knew we did something good. It felt good to be a part of the — he was obviously overjoyed at getting released and freeing himself.”
Now that Hamill was safe, the one thing he wanted most in the world was to make a telephone call. His nightmare was over. He had survived gunfire, kidnapping, and uncertainty, but now Hamill's thoughts were miles from the harsh reality of Iraq and the war.
Curry: “What went through your heart?
Hamill: “What went through my heart? It was the phone call I was fixing to make. I wanted to get back to my camp and I wanted to call my wife and say I'm coming home.”
Home. Back in Macon, Miss., Kellie got what she called the best wake-up call of her life. A company representative told her that her husband was safe. Our NBC cameras were there right after she got the news.
Kellie Hamill: "I feel wonderful, I just can't explain it. I’m just wanting to see him and put my arms around and hold him and hug him and love him and keep him here captured with me and the kids."
Then came a second phone call with the voice she wanted to hear most. After her excruciating wait, Tommy was on the phone and Kellie's composure finally cracked. She answered his questions about the family, and emotions, bottled up for weeks, finally released. He was clearly concerned about them, even though he had been the hostage Now began Hamill's emotional journey back home. He was leaving Iraq behind, but perhaps not for the last time.
Stopping over in Germany for medical care, his main focus was his family, and his wife had no intention of waiting another second to see him. Kellie, who had not been on a plane since she was 12 and had never left the country, needed to get a passport before she could meet Tommy in Germany. Then, her first airplane flight in more than 25 years was aboard a private jet, provided by KBR parent company, Halliburton. It was non-stop to Germany.
On May 5, after 26 days of waiting and worrying, Kellie and Tommy Hamill were finally reunited.
Curry: “And when you two met there were no words for many minutes.”
Hamill: “I wasn't supposed to see her, I wasn't going to see her for six months. And when I left I said I'm not going to be back for six months. And I'm seeing her ahead of time. So I mean it's wonderful, I was glad to see her, I'm glad that I'm alive.”
Two days later, his plane touched down on U.S. soil. He received a hero's welcome at the airport in Mississippi. He also caught up on a month's worth of news. One big story while he was locked away was about Iraqis locked up and then abused by U.S. soldiers.
Curry: “You've seen the photos, the torture, abuse. You were once a captive.”
Curry: “How do you look at those images? How do you react to them?”
Hamill: “There's two different ways to look at this. I mean it's bad. You look at it with the Geneva conventions, you're not supposed to do this. But if we've got someone there that's got information, we know he's got information, you know, we need to try to get it out of him. We need to save American lives, and we need to save Iraqi lives.”
Curry: “You know that investigators are looking into charges that some men were sodomized, that they were raped. That they were possibly even murdered. These are all under investigation these charges. Is there a line?”
Hamill: “I'm not going to condone that. There's a line, yes. There's a line.”
Curry: “You have seen the pictures since you've come back of what happened to Nick Berg.”
Curry: “Having been a captive it must have hit you in a way that's very singular… you must have been angry, knowing he was beheaded.
Hamill: “I was angry. They never should have done that. And you know, I'm hoping and praying that these people will be found. And we're going to take them to justice. And they're going to be —the full extent of the law, whatever we can do for them. We need to bring them to justice.”
Time for healing, considering the future
In Mississippi, Hamill began healing. First mending his wounded arm. Despite all they put him through, he's thankful his Iraqi captors brought doctors to care for him.
Nowadays, Hamill is healing emotionally, making up for critical time away from his children. Days after returning home, he was honored by the Houston Astros, and threw out the first pitch. And he used his newfound celebrity to bring the world's attention to a cause close to his heart: the Americans who remain missing in Iraq, among them, three members of his convoy. He also wants to honor the four Americans killed on that day.
Hamill: “I want to make sure that my safe return doesn't distract everyone's commitment to continue praying for our troops and the thousands of civilian contractors who risk their lives every day, just like I did to improve the lives of the Iraqi people… It’s impossible to describe the courage, dedication and sacrifices made by my friends and colleagues in Iraq.”
While in Texas, hamill visited his colleague Tommy Zimmerman in the hospital. Despite being injured in the convoy attack, Zimmerman managed to flee to safety that day.
Zimmerman: “Each one of us there I think that day, there's a certain bond that belongs to us.”
Zimmerman says he plans to go back to work soon in Iraq.
Zimmerman: “Once you been there for a while you begin to realize that they truly do want us there. And suddenly that becomes important, to be a part of helping them. And if that can't touch your heart, there's something wrong.”
After Hamill's harrowing ordeal, he too feels the same pull to go back to Iraq, the country he was held hostage in for nearly a month.
Curry: “You've not ruled out going back to Iraq?”
Hamill: “I haven't ruled it out.”
Curry: “Are you saying you would go back?”
Hamill: “Yes, yes.”
Curry: “Why would you go back?”
Hamill: “It's my duty.”
Curry: “You would go back even knowing?”
Curry: “Would your family let you go back?”
Hamill: “They're not going to have to. They're going to stand beside me.”
Curry: “How are you, based on all you've experienced, dealing, making peace with the fear and the cruelty you've seen?”
Hamill: “It's not bad. I mean I deal with it.”
Many see Hamill as a profile in courage, admiring his will to endure the harshest conditions and still come out on the other side seemingly stronger. But Hamill says he is just who he is.
Hamill: “I'm just a country boy and I get thrown off a horse, I dust myself off and I pick myself back up… I get back on and I go again.”