Zaun's release elates friends of academy days WAR IN THE GULF

March 05, 1991|By Joel McCord

Jeff Zaun was free.

The news early yesterday brought young Brian Kormann out of his bed with a loud "Yesss!" and his arm straight in the air "as if he had scored a touchdown," his father, Peter Kormann, recounted.

It brought a sense of relief to Mr. Kormann, Lieutenant Zaun's former gymnastics coach at the U.S. Naval Academy, and great joy to his parents, Calvin and Marjorie Zaun of Cherry Hill, N.J.

"I just knew he was going to make it," a grinning Mrs. Zaun said in an interview aired on Cable News Network.

Lt. Jeffrey Zaun, 28, a 1984 Naval Academy graduate, was taken prisoner early in the Persian Gulf war when the Navy A6-E Intruder on which he served as bombardier and navigator went down during a mission against an airfield in southwestern Iraq. Yesterday, he was among the first 10 allied military prisoners released.

When he was last seen in videotapes on Iraqi television about six weeks ago, Lieutenant Zaun looked shaken. His face was puffy, and he had what appeared to be bruises and cuts around his eyes and elsewhere on his face. His gums appeared bloody as he woodenly denounced the U.S.-led war against Iraq.

Yesterday, he could be seen again in television pictures as he and his fellow prisoners were being turned over to the Red Cross in Baghdad for a trip to Jordan. He had lost weight, but the cuts and bruises had healed, and his face no longer appeared swollen. At one point, he smiled for the cameras.

"He was thin, but he had all his senses," his father, Calvin Zaun, said on NBC's "Today" show.

In another interview, the Zauns said they thought the sight of their son on Iraqi television helped galvanize the nation in the war effort.

Over the weeks, the family had received hundreds of cards and letters of support, Mrs. Zaun said, as well as a huge banner from the Naval Academy.

She and Mr. Kormann, who recruited her son for the academy and at whose home the midshipman was a frequent guest, agreed that their worst times came shortly after they learned of his capture and in the days since the war ended.

"The initial shock was bad, but the last couple of days have been really hard," Mr. Kormann, now the gymnastics coach at Ohio State University, explained in a telephone interview. "You wanted to know, but then you didn't want to know."

During the weeks Lieutenant Zaun was in captivity, Mr. Kormann said he and his wife, Linda, prayed for his release. Their sons, Brian, 10, and Timothy, 8, whom Lieutenant Zaun befriended during his days in Annapolis, were worried but confident he would survive.

"My kids loved him," Mr. Kormann had said in an earlier interview. "He always had time to play with them and read to them."

And even if he was a softy with Mr. Kormann's sons, Lieutenant Zaun also is the hard-nosed straight arrow who would survive captivity, the coach and others agreed.

"Never any doubt in my mind," offered Lt. Tom Belesimo, a former teammate, in a telephone interview form his duty station in Norfolk, Va.

"I'm sure he gave those guys a run for their money," added Ron Lievendag, an assistant to Mr. Kormann when Lieutenant Zaun was at the academy, and now the head coach. "I noticed he lost weight. He'll probably come out of there and say he was on the Iraqi diet. He'll be real positive. It'll be really great to see him."

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