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BERLIN (AP) -- A U.S. Marine who disappeared in Iraq and turned up in Lebanon nearly three weeks later said he was excited to be going home, but his return trip was unexpectedly delayed at the last minute, military officials said Wednesday.
Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun left the U.S. military hospital at Landstuhl on Wednesday and had been expected to be flown home the same day from Ramstein Air Base. Instead, his departure was postponed until Thursday, without explanation.
But Ramstein spokeswoman Darlene Cowsert later said his departure was postponed and she had no explanation. "Missions change," she said.
Earlier, Hassoun made his first public comments since vanishing June 20 from his base near the troubled city of Fallujah. He reappeared July 8 at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, and it remains unclear how he made the 500-mile journey.
Hassoun said he was happy to have completed his debriefing by specialists, according to a statement read to The Associated Press by hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw.
"The people here at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center have treated me very well, but I am excited to be going home," Hassoun said.
Hassoun, who has dual Lebanese and U.S. citizenship and worked as a translator in Iraq, has relatives in Utah.
"All thanks and praises are due to God for my safety," he said. "I am also very thankful for all the kind wishes, support and praise for me and my family from my fellow Marines, all the people in the United States, Lebanon and around the world.
"I am in good health and spirits. I look forward to my return home to friends and family."
He signed the statement "Semper Fidelis," the Marine Corps motto meaning "always faithful."
During the three weeks he was missing, various conflicting reports emerged about him -- first that he was kidnapped and beheaded, then that he was alive.
He made no mention of his ordeal in his statement.
Hassoun's so-called "survival, evasion, resistance and escape" debriefing at Landstuhl was tailored to help U.S. military specialists learn any lessons about his ordeal that could help others who find themselves in similar situations.
Hassoun was originally scheduled to be brought to the Marine base at Quantico, Va., where his repatriation would continue to be handled by officials of the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, said Marine Corps spokesman Dan McSweeney at the Pentagon.
The U.S. Navy has said it is investigating whether the entire kidnapping might have been a hoax, but the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is not expected to question Hassoun until his repatriation is complete, McSweeney said.
(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)