Families Celebrate Rescue of 7 U.S. POWs
As word spread early Sunday that seven American prisoners of war had been found in Iraq, families of missing U.S. soldiers began recognizing their loved ones in television footage and getting the calls they had been waiting for _ their soldiers were alive.
In Lithia Springs, Ga., Kaye and Ron Young Sr. spotted their pilot son, Army Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, in choppy video of the rescued soldiers on CNN.
``It’s him, and I’m just so happy that I could kiss the world!″ Young Sr. said. ``It’s him! It’s definitely him.″
He was running, Kaye Young said, laughing with joy. ``Ron has this smile that was ear-to-ear, we could just see it. He looks thin, but he looks good.″
She said she also recognized Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, the other pilot who had been taken prisoner when their son’s helicopter was forced down March 23 in heavy fighting, and she spoke with his wife, Michelle.
The Pentagon confirmed the identities of the seven as the two Apache helicopter pilots and five Army soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who had been shown on Iraqi television after their convoy was ambushed March 23.
Williams’ father said Michelle Williams and the couple’ two young children were ``very excited, very relieved and they know their prayers have been answered.″
``I’m also happy for the rest of the POWs and their families,″ David Williams Sr. said.
In New Jersey, the parents of Sgt. James Riley, 31, said they had just returned from church services when an Army major arrived with the news that their son was alive and well.
``It’s just an emotional rollercoaster, and we’re just happy he’s safe. We’ve been praying a lot,″ said Riley’s mother, Jane Riley.
The sergeant’s father, Athol, said his elation was tempered by losses other families have suffered during the war. ``It’s got to be tinged also with a certain amount of regret for the others who have not come home in one piece,″ he said. ``They gave everything.″
Relatives and family friends of Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; and Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, Fort Bliss, Texas, said they, too, had been told their soldiers were alive.
``We thank God for watching over them. We are grateful for all the worldwide prayers,″ Johnson’s father, Claude Johnson, said in a statement.
Riley, Miller, Hudson, Hernandez and Johnson were with the 507th Maintenance Company convoy that was ambushed March 23 in the southern city of Nasiriyah. Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital earlier this month, had been with them.
Lynch’s family returned to the United States with her Saturday and issued a statement after hearing the others had been rescued: ``This is certainly an answer to our prayers and _ we’re certain _ the prayers of literally millions of other concerned citizens of the world,″ they said.
The seven Americans found Sunday were picked up by U.S. Marines on the road between Baghdad and Tikrit and they appear to be healthy, Rumsfeld said. He said U.S. troops were tipped off by Iraqis.
``Iraqis came up to American military and said that there are seven Americans at this locations and it was about 6 or 8 kilometers south of Tikrit and that you should go get them, and they did,″ Rumsfeld said.
A few hours later, clad in an assortment of pajamas and shorts, the seven clambered out of helicopters at an air base in southern Iraq. They were then were flown to a military airport south of Kuwait City.
``I’m relieved. I’m celebrating without question,″ said the Rev. Ron Pracht, pastor of Miller’s church in Wichita, Kan., and a spokesman for Miller’s wife, Jessa. ``I’m so excited for Jessa and the kids.″
Bethany Herrera, the sister-in-law of Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, said the military had also confirmed Hudson was safe.
``I had a good feeling last night before I went to bed,″ Herrera said. ``With my faith in God, I thought he would be OK, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high.″
On the lawn outside Maria DeLaLuz Hernandez’ home in Mission, Texas, relatives and neighbors were celebrating her son’s safe rescue Sunday morning and singing hymns, said family friend Jesus Cantu.
``He’s been rescued. We’ve been seeing the images on CNN. It’s been confirmed,″ Cantu said. ``They said psychologically he was good, physically he was good. He had minor injuries but he walked out of the airplane on his own.
``It’s a day of jubilation″