One of the big stories coming out of Iraq over the last day is the rescue of seven American prisoners of war who have been held captive by Iraqi soldiers for the last three weeks. Now, the former American prisoners are beginning to tell the story of their capture and treatment by the Iraqi military. VOA-TV’s Chris Simkins reports news of the soldiers’ release has also fueled celebrations across the United States.
The expressions on the faces of the freed American prisoners of war told the story. They were clearly relieved and happy just hours after a U.S. Marine unit rescued them in the northern Iraqi town of Samarra. They told Washington Post reporter Peter Baker they were initially roughed up and beaten after their capture.
“The captors in the first prison were fairly cruel but as they moved in they seemed to get increasingly sympathetic jailers. People who weren’t probably really weren’t tied into the regime and probably didn’t want to have anuthing to do with them. And the last ones in particular in this house in Samarra, they said were almost compassionate, they pooled together their own money to buy food and medicine for the Americans.
Despite three weeks in captivity the Americans were all in good condition. As the Iraqi regime began to collapse, their guards disappeared.
Five of the American POW’s were captured days after the war began when Iraqi soldiers ambushed their maintenance company convoy in Nasiriyah. The other two, who are pilots, were taken prisoner after their Apache helicopter went down in enemy territory.
In the United States Sunday, families of the POW’s celebrated after learning the freed soldiers would be home soon. Elsie Morgan, a spokesperson for Shoshanna Johnson’s family, said they were overcome with joy after seeing her on television.
“We’re ecstatic that not only she is safe but all POW’s are back in U.S. hands.”
Athol and Jane Riley, the parents of Sergeant James Riley, talked to their son by phone.
NATURAL SOUND, REPORTER ASKING, “HE’S GOING TO BE A HERO, HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?”
“He would not look at it that way.”
NATURAL SOUND, REPORTER ASKING, “WHY NOT?”
“He was doing his job.”
In Texas, the mother of specialist Edgar Hernandez said it was marvelous and a miracle that her son survived. Edgar’s brother Marco says he already knows what he’s going to do when he sees him.
“I’m just going to give him a big hug, squeeze him, give him a kiss and tell him how much we love him.”
“In communities across the country, yellow ribbons, a symbol of hope for the POW’s safe return, are now being replaced with the red, white and blue colors of the American flag.