'Are you Roy?'
Hallums says Sept. 7, 2005, started out like any other day: He awoke from a fitful sleep and had sardines for breakfast. He wasn't sure of the time, but he sensed it was morning because of the food delivery. Like usual, he ate, drank some water and lay back down to dream up another vacation.
Little did he know that his wildest dreams were about to come true.
Around lunchtime, he began hearing helicopters. The whirring grew louder, as if they "had landed on the house," he says. Then Hallums heard the sound of people scurrying above him.
"I hoped it was somebody there to rescue me," he says, "but after 311 days you think it's probably not going to happen."
Someone began pounding on the ceiling door with a sledgehammer. As he listened to the cacophony above, Hallums ripped off his blindfold, and the door crashed down. Dust kicked up and sunlight flooded the room.
"And then this soldier jumps down and he's got his fatigues on and pistols and he's got a machine gun," Hallums says. "He says, 'Are you Roy?' I say, 'Yes.' He says, 'Come on, we're getting out of here.' I say, 'Good.'"
Hallums waited upstairs with his rescuers, who gave him something to drink and told him a helicopter would return shortly. The soldiers searched the house, but the kidnappers had fled. The soldiers told Hallums they honed in on him after a detainee disclosed the location of the farmhouse. Another hostage, an Iraqi, was also rescued.
Fifteen minutes later the helicopter returned, and it whisked Hallums to an Air Force Base, where he received a check-up. Military doctors told him he needed medical attention — he was malnourished and dehydrated and had rashes on his skin — but he was OK to travel.
Under the watchful eye of doctors, Hallums drank as much water as he needed and ate a turkey sandwich as his strength returned — and the reality of his newfound freedom began to sink in.
"I was just sitting there thinking, 'I can't believe this is really over,'" he says. "A miracle. A real miracle."
After being cleared by doctors, Hallums boarded a plane bound for Germany. From there he flew to Chicago. And from there, he boarded the plane that would bring him home, to Memphis, to his family.
Home at last
The Sept. 9 reunion at Memphis International Airport was a joyous one, an early Christmas gift, as Susan calls it. She was waiting on the runway with the couple's daughters, granddaughter Sabrina and other family members.
During his long journey from Baghdad to Memphis, Hallums was yearning for the moment when he could embrace each one of them.
"That was all I was thinking about," he says.
Finally, to the delight — and disbelief — of everyone, Hallums appeared.
"I crumbled when I saw him," Susan says.
By then, the media frenzy was on, but Hallums chose not to speak with reporters and instead issued a statement.
Prior to sitting down with The University of Memphis Magazine last spring and the Discovery Channel this summer, Hallums was featured on 60 Minutes last fall. The show was filmed at The Peabody Hotel and gave the country its first opportunity to hear Hallums' story and see how he was holding up.
Hallums' medical problems are minor but still lingering, like the pain in his shoulders and knees from sleeping on cement for 311 days. He was able to regain the 35 pounds he lost — "too easily," he jokes.
Emotionally, Hallums believes he's OK. He says he doesn't have nightmares when he sees clips of his own chilling story on the news. He still doesn't consider himself claustrophobic. And he's ready to work again.
A few old high school and college friends have contacted Hallums since his return, and though they usually don't ask too many questions about what happened, he says it doesn't bother him if they do.
Hallums isn't entirely sure why he was able to last 10 months as a hostage, especially as people tell him there's no way they would have made it. He credits a military background, at least partially, for his survival. No matter what the reason, Hallums is a living testament to the human spirit, proof that people can endure anything.
"To me, it was just something I had to do and get through," he says.
But Hallums defied the odds. As of press time, and according to numerous reports, 18 known Americans have been taken hostage in Iraq since April 2004. One escaped and five, including Hallums, were rescued or released. The remaining 12 were killed or are still missing.
Hallums, who lives in Cordova, outside Memphis, was invited to the White House in October 2005 to visit with President Bush. He says the President was relaxed and laid back, evidenced by the cowboy boots he wore with his suit and the easygoing conversation. The two spoke in the Oval Office for about 30 minutes.
"He seemed interested and concerned," Hallums says. "He knew a lot about [my situation]."
Not even Hallums knows everything about his situation, like the identities of his captors. He knows only that they were Sunni insurgents operating in a menacing area just outside Baghdad called the "Triangle of Death."
Hallums doesn't know much about his rescuers, either, only that the memory of their heroic deed will forever dwell in his mind, in his heart, in his soul.
During the rescue, the soldier who pulled Hallums out handed him an American flag patch. That flag, which Hallums drew from his shirt pocket and flashed during the 60 Minutes interview, represents the liberty given back to him by those soldiers after a year of being locked away, in fear he would never see his family again.
"They came through for me," Hallums says. "There's no way I could ever repay or thank them."
Hallums instead pays tribute to his rescuers — indeed, to anyone who has fought or is fighting for freedom — by celebrating the things that were once taken from him. Sunrises and sunsets. A warm spring breeze. Reunions with old friends. Phone calls and visits from his daughters and ex-wife. Hugs from his granddaughter and new grandson.
They serve as reminders that nothing should be taken for granted — that each precious moment in life is worth savoring.
"I'm thankful," Hallums says, "for every day."