05/12/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT
It was perhaps the darkest hour since the embassy in Tehran was seized last November 4. As 14 of the hostages' families gathered in a Houston hotel for a long-scheduled series of State Department briefings, the mood was subdued. Eight U.S. servicemen had been killed in the aborted rescue attempt two days before. The militants' subsequent announcement that the captive Americans were being moved threatened what little contact there had been between them and their loved ones. "The families are frustrated, fearful and discouraged," said Dr. Ernest Cooke, of the Family Liaison Action Group (FLAG). "I'm still numbed by it all."
The tokens of hope remained. Most of the hostages' kin wore American flags near their hearts. Bows of yellow ribbon (from the 1972 popular song about a man returning home after a long absence) were fixed to their lapels and blouses as symbols of unity and patience. A few relatives gathered outside the hotel to tie a ribbon around a tree (as in the song). Some were buoyed by Navy Capt. Richard Stratton, a former Vietnam POW, and his wife, Alice, who came to their meeting and counseled faith. "This country will not desert the hostages any more than it deserted me," he said. But the news that greeted them when the weekend was over was not good: The nation had lost its Secretary of State to the debate over the rescue mission (page 32), military and intelligence experts here and abroad had begun what promised to be a long, contentious postmortem (page 34)—and the hostages were no closer to freedom.