FLINT, Mich. (WOOD/AP) – A former U.S. Marine recently released from an Iranian prison in a prisoner-swap deal has returned to Michigan.
Amir Hekmati arrived Thursday shortly after 4 p.m. at Flint’s Bishop International Airport. As he exited the small jet, he was greeted by cheers from family, former Marines and a throng of reporters.
“It’s great to be back in Flint, my hometown,” he told the crowd. “I love this city, I love its people. They’ve been so good to me and my family and we’re very grateful.”
His mother was among relatives waiting for him in the hangar, but his father, who is ill, could not attend.
The 32-year-old Hekmati has been at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany since his release over the weekend. After a medical evaluation, he left Germany around 2 a.m. Michigan time on a commercial jet along with his two sisters and his brother-in-law. They flew into an undisclosed location in the U.S. before arriving in Flint on a private jet — a 14-hour trip.
“We’re here to welcome home one of our brothers. He’s a marine, he’s from this area, and we couldn’t go get him, so we had to wait until he come back,” former Marine Jim Tuohy said.
“I’m an American and I’m here to support him and show our love,” supporter Stephanie Walker said.
Hekmati was visiting his sick grandmother in Iran in August of 2011 when he was arrested. Convicted by an Iranian court of spying and sentenced to death in 2012, Hekmati was later retried and given a 10-year sentence on a lesser charge.
“It’s been a very long road, very long journey,” Hekmati said. “Unfortunately, many people have traveled this road with me … But despite all the difficulties, thank God, thanks to everyone’s support, everybody from the president, Congressman Kildee, everyday Americans, I’m standing here healthy, tall and with my head held high.”
Hekmati recounted Tuesday how disbelief turned to joy when he and three fellow Americans realized they were being freed. Asked about his 4.5 years in Iranian prison, Hekmati said “it wasn’t good,” but that his Marine training helped sustain him.