Homecoming for Americans Hostages Freed From Iran

A new prisoner exchange, just one day before the 35th anniversary of "Nightline's" devoted coverage to another Iran hostage release.
7:10 | 01/20/16

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Transcript for Homecoming for Americans Hostages Freed From Iran
We begin tonight with the Americans released in the prisoner swap with Iran. An amazing triumph of courage as one former marine speaks out telling the world that Iran did not break him. This on the 35th anniversary of another Iran hostage crisis, leaving us with a strange feeling of deja Vu. Here's ABC's David Wright. Reporter: Tonight in Germany "Washington post" reporter Jason rezaian laughed with his wife over a video. The first joke they've been able to share in more than a year. Rezaian, one of five American citizens who were imprisoned in Iran, all five of them free at last as part of a broader deal negotiated by the Obama administration. At long last they can stand tall and breathe deep the fresh air of freedom. Reporter: Their release in exchange of Iranian prisoners held here, part of a broader U.S. Deal with Iran, thawing relations that had been frozen since 1979. Today 32-year-old amir hekmati was the first of the former prisoners to speak publicly. How does it feel to be back, amir? It feels great. I feel lucky. Reporter: Eager to let friends and family know he's okay. I didn't want to let my fellow Marines down, so I tried my best to, you know, keep my head up and withstand all the pressures that were put upon me. Some of which were very inhumane and unjust. I'm grateful. Semper fi. Reporter: He's a Marine Corps veteran, arrested while visiting family in Iran. My name is amir hekmati. Reporter: Forced to make this false confession, convicted of espionage and sentenced to death. As soon as we got out of Iranian airspace, champagne bottles were popped and the Swiss are amazing, hospitality. Reporter: The scene today a happy echo of 35 years ago this morning. The day Iran finally released the 52 U.S. Hostages -- Look at that inside the door of the dc-9 welcome back to freedom. Reporter: After 144 days of captivity. Reporting for "Nightline" that morning -- During these past 444 days. Reporter: That's "Nightline" anchor Ted coppell introducing the late great peter Jennings. It has been an unbelievably long day for the 52 American, 12 hours and 9 minutes after the islamic revolutionary guards finally released them and let them go. Reporter: Kevin just 20 years old then was the youngest of the hostages. I remember watching the footage. And you guys were so skinny and bearded and you looked like you had been through hell. We had. It's just we came out the other end, David. Watching what's going on in Iran right now, are you having some deja Vu? Well, I think so. Clearly the events that are playing out right now halfway around the world bring back memories of 35 years ago for ourselves. Reporter: He can remember every detail of those days. The state government of Maine sent over 52 live lobsters for our first meal in freedom. You must think about that every time you eat lobster. I actually do. Reporter: But for him and his fellow hostages the memories of their time inside are impossible to shake. If you were caught even whispering, sometimes even looking at your fellow American, you were immediately put into solitary confinement. I spent 43 days in solitary confinement, David, after trying to escape. Reporter: That was a year before they were finally freed but their ordeal didn't end in. He says it was his family who helped him get through it. They're the ones that bring you back to reality, they're the ones who kick you out of the house and say it's time to earn a living. PTSD is a very real challenge. It is a very real problem. And I have a number of friends who were there in Iran with me who to this day still suffer from that. Reporter: Harder still, for the family of bob Levinson who is not part of the prisoner exchange. Please help me. Reporter: Levinson was a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran nearly a decade ago. His captors sent proof of life three years ago but his wife and son learned the disappointing news he would not be coming home from watching TV. Not a call from the white house? Or the state department? No, nothing. Reporter: Heartbroken they spoke with my colleague Brian Ross. We're devastated. We had been given assurances over the years that my dad would be a top priority to get him home as much as everybody else, if not more, because he's been held for almost nine years. Mrs. Levinson, do you consider whether bob might have in fact died in captivity? No, I will never consider that until I have proof. I believe every day he's trying to come home to our family. We will never give up. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the Levinson family. The ordeal that they have been through over the last, you know, almost nine years now, is -- is virtually unthinkable. Reporter: Today the white house vowed the U.S. Will continue to press Iran for details on Levinson's fate. We have reason to believe that he no longer is in Iran. Reporter: Today the U.S. Released. Seven men convicted of helping Iran's nuclear program and dropped charges against 14 more. But none of the Iranians freed from U.S. Custody elected to go back to Iran. The Obama administration's with Iran remains hugely controversial. Just as the Iranian hostage crisis defined jimmy Carter's presidency, ultimately dooming his re-election efforts, likewise the Iran deal is at least a factor in the 2016 race. The fact is we shouldn't have to trade anything to get our citizens back home. We've got to shake our head at how it's happening. For one thing the republicans don't buy, Iran's assurances that the country has suspended its nuclear weapons program. So what does the former hostage think? Do you feel that president Obama made a bad deal? Are you talking specifically about getting the five men back this week or four men? The whole thing. I think the Iranians got a better deal than we did. Reporter: 35 years later, he still hasn't forgiven Iran for the 444 days they stole from his life. But he has moved on with his life. He's able even to enjoy the movie "Argo" which dealt with one chapter of the hostage crisis all those years ago but he says it was tough to watch. You don't want to totally relive even in story-telling the most tragic and difficult and darkest moments of a very bad period of your life. And this moment that we're living today must bring it all back but at least it brings back the best moment, which is the moment that you were freed. That is so true. You know I think when I am thinking about these guys returning home today, they're never going to be the person they were before they were captured. Hopefully they will be a better person than they were. Reporter: Consider this, three of the five prisoners just freed by Iran were held longer than the hostages were 35 years ago. They may be on their way back to the states, but it could be years before they feel truly home. I'm David Wright for "Nightline" in New York.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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