Jan 212004
 
Authors: Christiana Nelson

There was not enough room for everyone to fit inside the

10,000-capacity Moby Arena on Sunday, Dec. 1, 1991.

Another 10,000 people stood on the Moby lawn. Thousands of

people lined up along the 12 miles of Interstate 25 between the

Fort Collins-Loveland Airport and the CSU campus and jammed the

sidewalks of South College Avenue.

Others even flew in on parachutes waving American flags.

Whatever their location, they were all present for the same

reason.

They stood to welcome Thomas Sutherland, an American hero, home

to Fort Collins after six and a half years as a hostage in

Lebanon.

“The headlines said ‘He’s the same old Tom’ and it was true,”

said Jean Sutherland, Thomas’ wife. “People didn’t know what to

expect, but he was the same guy even after all of that.”

Tom Sutherland’s 2,354 days in captivity brought strangers in

the Fort Collins community together.

“I remember coming home late one night and hopping in bed to

read the paper,” said community member Bill West. “I read about the

hostage situation and I remember thinking that June 9 would be

Tom’s first anniversary in captivity and that someone really needs

to do something about that. Then I got a feeling that I had never

had before or experienced since and I said ‘it’s going to be

me.'”

West had never met Sutherland, but he joined forces with Frank

Vattano, a friend of Sutherland’s, to make sure that Sutherland was

not forgotten while he was in captivity.

“We wanted to make sure that people didn’t forget Tom

Sutherland,” Vattano said. “We had events after the first 100 days,

the first year and the first 1,000 days; anytime that was a

reasonable time to do something, we did it.”

While commemorating the milestones of Sutherland’s captivity for

six and a half years, Vattano never doubted that Sutherland would

return to Fort Collins.

“I always had hope. Tom is tenacious and if anyone could survive

such a situation, he could,” Vattano said. “He came out and I swear

it was like he was never in captivity.”

Still, few people are thrown so abruptly into a completely new

culture, and Sutherland said his experience made him appreciate

cultural diversity.

“It made me appreciate the United States in general,” Sutherland

said. “We are far from being perfect by a long way, but it is

better than all the rest. But, that doesn’t mean that all of these

other countries don’t have something to offer.”

William Griswold, a friend of Sutherland’s, said that although

Sutherland had always been a compassionate person, he was most

impressed by Sutherland’s nurturing words after his release from

captivity.

“I thought he would be a cooked, cold vegetable when he got

back,” Griswold said. “Then, he made the astounding statement, so

typical of Tom: ‘Why should I hate them? They have to stay in that

awful place, and here I am home in the greatest, most free, most

exciting country in the world.'”

Sutherland said he put things in perspective while in captivity

to maintain his positive attitude.

“I discovered a long time ago that hatred is really a very

divisive force that will really eat you up – so I decided before I

even got out of there that I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my

life being angry and bitter about all that because you can’t do

anything about it – it’s all in the past – if you’re still angry

about it … then you are still a captive, you haven’t gotten free

from it.”

West believes that Sutherland’s optimistic attitude is just one

of the lasting impressions he will leave on the world and the Fort

Collins community.

“There is a lot to be learned from the Tom Sutherland story,”

West said. “Children will always read about the situation in the

history books of Fort Collins and it is also a lesson of the

importance of freedom, especially when you don’t have it, because

this story gives rise to everything that’s been paid to get

it.”

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