MACON, Miss. – Former hostage Thomas Hamill (search), back home Saturday after his three-week ordeal in Iraq, credited God and worldwide support for his survival and said the rebuilding mission that nearly cost him his life must continue.
"I knew I was going to make it. I knew I was coming home," Hamill told reporters before a prayer vigil held in his honor at the Noxubee County (search) Court House. "I told the Lord to pick the time and place."
Speaking publicly for the first time since his early-morning return to Mississippi, Hamill said daily, multiple prayers reinforced faith that he would survive captivity.
The truck driver was wounded and captured when his convoy was ambushed April 9. He escaped May 2 from a farmhouse about 50 miles north of Baghdad (search), squeezing open a sheet-metal door and running a half-mile to U.S. military vehicles he had heard rumbling outside.
"I got out and I said, 'Lord, if today is my day you call me home, so be it. If it's not, then I am going to these guys and I am going home," he said.
Hamill, 44, said his English-speaking captors moved him many times throughout the Iraqi desert. They tortured him by falsely telling him he would be released within several days, shackling him, brandishing weapons and threatening his life, he said.
"They made no bones about what they would do if I tried to escape," he said. "I was a captive. I was not there of my free will. I couldn't leave when I wanted to unless I escaped."
Hamill said he waited to be brought to an area with which he was familiar with the roads, and plotted to escape when his kidnappers left him alone.
Hamill initially hadn't planned to make any statements this weekend, but he changed his mind after viewing media coverage of his escape and return. Still, he said, "I want to keep this low-key.
"I just want to get back to some normalcy."
Hamill returned to Mississippi about 1 a.m. Saturday to a chorus of cheering family and friends.
On the day before Mother's Day, "It was the best gift I could get," said his wife, Kellie Hamill. The couple flew home together from Germany, where Thomas Hamill had been treated for an arm injury.
Hamill's first duty after landing was to hug his 12-year-old daughter, Tori, and his son, Thomas, 14.
Hamill, who works for Halliburton Corp. (search) subsidiary KBR, said he would consider returning to the job in Iraq but worries about how it would affect his children.
"We got to get that country back on its feet," he said.
Hamill was among seven American contractors who disappeared after the April attack. The bodies of four have been found, and two workers remain missing. Two military men also vanished; one was later found dead and the other, Pfc. Keith M. Maupin of Batavia, Ohio, remains missing.
Earlier Saturday, Hamill released a statement through Halliburton, saying that he is praying for "my two missing colleagues, the safety of my friends and co-workers in Iraq as well as the families of those who have lost a loved one."
Saturday's vigil came after a day of quiet celebration at the Hamills' modest brick home, where yellow police tape kept waiting media crews off the lawn and red, white and blue balloons floated atop the mailbox.
"I was so thrilled just to see Tommy back on this side. Now if he can just get a little rest," said his grandmother, Vera Hamill, 92.
About 20 friends and family members attended a cookout at the home Saturday afternoon. Hamill came out to the back yard, holding up his wounded arm in greetings to those outside. He and Kellie Hamill then walked around, arm in arm, greeting friends and family before joining others for the meal.
Hamill said earlier this week that he was particularly looking forward to quiet time with his children. As a result, Macon Mayor Dorothy Baker Hines said plans for a parade and other celebrations in his hometown were called off for now.
The news was a disappointment to some in this rural east Mississippi community of about 2,500.
"They prayed and had hopes up. They are glad he's home. They wanted to celebrate with him," said Tina Brooks, 36.
But Jesse Green, a family friend who visited the Hamills on Saturday, said Hamill "does not want to draw any attention to himself. He does not consider himself a hero."
After meeting with his family, one of the first things Hamill will have to deal with are letters and calls offering him movie and book deals.
"He's got mail about movie deals and all sorts of things," his mother, Phyllis Hamill, said Friday.
Hamill has made no decision about a book deal, said Stephen Goodwin, another family spokesman and part of the public relations team hired by former POW Jessica Lynch. Lynch received a book deal valued at $1 million and a network turned her story into a television movie.