BAGHDAD, Iraq – Thomas Hamill has become a hero.
The 43-year-old Mississippi truck driver who escaped from his Iraqi kidnappers after three weeks in captivity is now in Germany for a reunion with his wife, Kellie Hamill, at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
"That reunion's gonna be great — he has already flown out of Iraq, heading to medical center in Germany," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search) told Fox News on Monday.
Hamill pried open a door in the house where he was being held north of Baghdad when he heard a U.S. patrol passing by Sunday, then led the troops to the house where two Iraqis were captured. He was flown to Germany on Monday.
Meanwhile on Monday, U.S. forces in Najaf (search) were being pounded by militiamen with about 20 mortars in one of the more intense attacks on American troops.
Violence on Sunday killed nine U.S. soldiers across the country. In the heaviest attack, five Navy sailors and one Army soldier were killed in a mortar barrage against a base near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Hamill was taken to Germany for a checkup at a U.S. military hospital and a visit with his wife, Kellie.
Hamill, a 43-year-old truck driver from Macon, Mississippi working for the Halliburton Corp. subsidiary KBR, was abducted by gunmen on April 9 after his convoy was attacked outside Baghdad. His fate had been unknown since he appeared in a videotape released the next day by his captors, who threatened to kill him within 12 hours unless the siege of Fallujah was lifted.
On Sunday, Hamill reappeared in the town of Balad, 40 miles north of Baghdad, when he ran up to a patrol from the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, part of the New York National Guard, and identified himself. He then lead the soldiers to the house from which he had just escaped, and two Iraqis with an automatic weapon were arrested.
Hamill had an infected gunshot wound in his left arm. The video images of Hamill soon after his abduction showed his left arm in a sling, suggesting he'd be wounded during the attack on his convoy.
After Hamill broke out of the house, he removed his shirt, waved it and began shouting in English at the soldiers as he ran toward them, members of the patrol said at a briefing in Baghdad on Monday. At first, they said they thought he might be an Iraqi farmer.
"He was yelling, 'I'm an American, I'm an American, I'm an American POW,'" said 1st Lt. Joe Merrill.
"From a distance, it was obvious he was unarmed, so we did not have our weapons trained on him," Merrill said.
He added that Hamill did not say anything about being tortured.
Capt. George Rodriguez said aiding in Hamill's rescue "actually felt kind of good - something that I think everybody wants to do."
Hamill's abduction came at the height of the wave of kidnappings of foreigners sparked by the intense violence that began in early April. An American soldier, Pfc. Keith M. Maupin, who was in the same convoy as Hamill, remains in the hands of kidnappers, as do three other Italian security guards.
The remains of a second military man missing in the attack, Sgt. Elmer Krause, were identified April 23.
Hamill's family exulted at the news of his escape. His father, Leo, said he fell asleep Saturday night while watching a television newscast and woke Sunday to 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."
His wife said she got a call at about 5:50 a.m. telling her that her husband was free. He later called home, "the best wake-up call I've ever had," she said.
Hamill, who gave up his dairy farm under economic pressure and took the job with KBR because it paid well, says he's ready to return to work as soon as he's fit. But Macon Mayor Dorothy Baker Hines told Fox News that Hamill's wife wants him home.
"We'll see who wins in this battle," Hines said.
Kimmitt said: "We'll take him back and put him to work any day of the week. He's got spunk."
A huge celebration is planned for Hamill. Hines said there are two funds operating for the Hamill family that are open to donations.
"We've had so many people all over the nation praying for Tommy and praying for our community," she said. "We just want people to remember to keep praying because there are still people who are hostages … and the men and women serving our country."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.