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Family Cheers Ex-Hostage's Escape

Civilian contractor Thomas Hamill's (search) daring escape Sunday after three weeks as a hostage in Iraq was "the best wake-up call" for his wife, and this town's mayor promised "a parade that will not end" when he returns home.  

"Tommy is free!" one resident yelled as she ran to wake her husband with the news.

Hamill, kidnapped during an attack on his supply convoy April 9, escaped from a house south of Tikrit and ran to a nearby U.S. patrol, the U.S. military announced in Baghdad.

Kellie Hamill (search) said she got a call at about 5:50 a.m. telling her that her husband, a truck driver for a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corp., was free. He later called home, "the best wake-up call I've ever had," she said.

"He sounded wonderful, so wonderful. He said he was fine," she told The Associated Press. "He said he was more worried about his mom, his grandmother, me and our kids. The first thing he said to me was, 'How are you doing?'"

Hamill's captors had threatened to kill him unless the United States lifted its siege on the city of Fallujah (search).

Kellie Hamill later went to church, where well-wishers greeted her with joyful hugs and tears.

Worshippers at Calvary Baptist Church (search) had prayed for Hamill around the clock, said choir member Shirley Battle.

"I don't think anyone in this group had given up," Battle said.

Thomas Hamill's father, Leo, said he fell asleep Saturday night while watching a television newscast and woke Sunday to church programming being interrupted by a bulletin reporting his son's escape.

"I knew when I saw him on TV, I knew it was him," the teary-eyed father said. "I hoped they would return him safe."

Promising to "grab and hug his neck" upon his son's return, Leo Hamill raised his hands skyward and proclaimed Sunday "a beautiful day."

Church deacon and Sunday school teacher John Gauntt, 36, said he was in bed when his wife ran down the hall yelling "Tommy is free!"

"We believe that everything works for the good for those that trust him," Gauntt said.

Hamill, 43, was "in good health," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt. A gunshot wound to his left arm, possibly suffered when he was captured, appeared to be infected and he was flown to Baghdad, Maj. Neal O'Brien said.

Kellie Hamill said her husband told her he pried a door open at the house where he was being held after he heard a U.S. Army patrol nearby. "He said he ran half a mile down the road and got with the convoy. Isn't that something?" she said.

Hamill's 12-year-old daughter, Tori, said she talked briefly to her father.

"I told him that I loved him," she said.

Earlier, Kellie Hamill had said their children were ecstatic and that Tori "is just bounding around the house. It's going wild here. It's calls, calls, calls and people at the door."

President Bush learned of Hamill's escape Sunday morning.

"It's great news for all Americans, and the president is happy for Mr. Hamill and family," White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said. Healy did not have additional details on the circumstances of Hamill's escape.

Hamill's 92-year-old grandmother, Vera Hamill, who lives in Macon, a town of about 2,500 people, said he had told her before he went to work in Iraq not to worry about him.

"I just want to thank everybody around the world who have been praying for him," she said. "Now I just hope those others can come home."

Mayor Dorothy Baker Hines said she told Kellie Hamill that as soon as her husband is back "we're going to have a parade that will not end."