- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

FORT HOOD, D.C., April 20 (UPI) — Seven American soldiers returned from Iraq Saturday night to flag waving welcomes at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas, having triumphed over bad luck and their Iraqi captors.

The massive C-17 transport plane that carried the seven from Ramstein Air Base and the U.S. hospital at Landstuhl, Germany, had a hatch on top from which two of the group waved an American flag as the plane rolled into view — a surprise early appearance that energized an already enthusiastic crowd.

The two of the group who are helicopter crew members then went on to Fort Hood, where President Bush was scheduled to visit later Sunday.

"My fellow Americans, I'd like to start off and say how overwhelmed I am with the tremendous support I got from you all. I'm speechless," Chief Warrant Officer David Williams told the Fort Bliss crowd.

"It feels really good to be home. Let's keep praying for those soldiers who are still fighting. God bless America," he said.

TV cameras carried the scenes across the country and beyond, with splashes of red, white and blue and the smiling former prisoners — and at Fort Hood, there was a stirring rendition of soldiers' voices singing, "And the Caissons Go Rolling Along."

The POWs had been shown on Iraqi TV, helpless as they were being interrogated after their March 23 capture. For most of the three weeks of their captivity they remained out of sight, getting kicked and beaten but, they said, not tortured.

The five of them who are members of an Army maintenance unit captured when they turned the down the wrong road survived as nine of their comrades were killed and the welcoming ceremonies contained frequent references to those lost and those still fighting.

Williams and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr. were captured the next day when their Apache helicopter was forced to land. It was they who were treated to a second welcome at Fort Hood.

The misfortune of happenstance capture, the constant moves north up past Baghdad in subsequent days and the fear U.S. bombs raining down in the area would hit them came to an end a week ago. That's when Iraqis told advancing U.S. troops the prisoners were not far away. Attending Iraqi soldiers, abandoned by their leaders, put up no resistance.

Pfc. Jessica Lynch, also captured March 23, was snatched from her captors in a bloody helicopter commando raid April 1 straight from a movie script. It was pulled off with the help of an Iraqi who told U.S. soldiers how to find her. She is being treated for her extensive injuries at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

Shoshana Johnson, 30, one of the seven returning this weekend, an El Paso native and the mother of a 2-year-old, was the only one for whom Fort Bliss was a hometown location.

Johnson's smiling face in recent days has been a particularly poignant image because while in captivity the Iraqi TV camera had caught her troubled and fearful eyes darting back and forth in close-up as she was interrogated, a scene that became one of the most memorable of the many war images.

Also on the plane were Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.; Pfc. Edward Hernandez, 21, Mission, Texas; Spc Joseph Hudson, 23, Alamogordo, N.M. and Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, Park City, Kan..

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