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(AP) Their long weeks of waiting over, their prayers finally answered, families of seven captured U.S. soldiers laughed and cried with unbridled joy Sunday as they celebrated word that their loved ones had been released in Iraq.
"Greatest day of my life," Ronald Young Sr. beamed as he and his wife, Kaye, watched a choppy CNN video of their son, helicopter pilot Ronald Jr., running to an aircraft that whisked the rescued prisoners of war out of danger.
"I'm just so happy that I could kiss the world!" added the elder Young. "When I saw him, it was like somebody had won the World Series. Everybody was jumping around and hollering."
Kaye Young laughed with happiness at images of her grinning, 26-year-old son as neighbors delivered food and flowers to their home in Lithia Springs, Ga., where an American flag hung on the front door and yellow ribbons were tied to trees outside.
"Ron has this smile that was ear-to-ear, we could just see it," said his mother, who celebrates her birthday Monday. "He looks thin. But he looks good. I always thought he would come home."
The family of the second rescued helicopter pilot, 30-year-old David S. Williams, celebrated in Fort Hood, Texas.
"There's a lot of big smiles and excitement," said his father, David Williams Sr., who was with his son's wife, Michelle, and their two children. "I've always remained positive. When you believe in God as I do and my son does, you know he will come back home safely."
The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that the seven soldiers -- six men and one woman -- were all those formally listed as POWS, including five from the Army's 507th Maintenance Company and the two downed Apache helicopter pilots.
The pilots, both chief warrant officers, were forced down March 23 during heavy fighting in Iraq.
The captured members of the 507th were Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of Fort Bliss, Texas; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan., and Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J,
They were attacked after making a wrong turn March 23 near Nasiriyah, a major crossing point on the Euphrates River northwest of Basra.
Jessica Lynch, rescued from an Iraqi hospital earlier this month, had also been with the convoy. Her family, who returned to the United States with her Saturday, issued a statement saying the release was "an answer to our prayers and -- we're certain -- the prayers of literally millions of other concerned citizens of the world."
Iraqi troops released the POWs to Marines near Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. Clad in pajamas and shorts, the soldiers had been held captive for 22 days.
The seven were taken to a military airport in Kuwait, where all were released after medical examinations. Army officials said three were examined for injuries -- two had gunshot wounds -- and the others had no problems.
President Bush was notified of the rescue around 7 a.m. EDT.
"It's just a good way to start off a morning, to be notified that seven of our Americans are going to be home soon and in the arms of their loved ones," he said.
Hudson's mother, Anecita, received first word about her son early Sunday morning from her sister in Okinawa.
"She said, 'Did you see the picture? I saw your Joseph. He's smiling in the picture,"' Anecita Hudson said. "I am so happy I didn't even put my hair up, but I don't care."
For three weeks, the families of the seven had waited and prayed for word of their loved ones. The gnawing sense of anguish deepened when the soldiers, several of them looking frightened, appeared on Iraqi television. That week, stores in Riley's New Jersey hometown, where he had enlisted straight from high school, sold out of yellow ribbons.
"It's just an emotional rollercoaster and we're just happy he's safe," said Riley's mother, Jane, who had just returned from church services when an Army major arrived with the news.
Riley's father, Athol, said their joy was tempered by the sorrow being endured by families who lost loved ones.
"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.
And other families continued to live with uncertainty.
"We're all well, but all waiting," said Juanita Anguiano, whose 24-year-old son, Edward, an Army sergeant, is among several U.S. troops still missing. "We certainly hope they find him."
In Texas, the family of Johnson, the only women among the seven released a statement.
"We thank God for watching over them. We are grateful for all the worldwide prayers," Johnson's father, Claude Johnson said.
Another Texas family began its own celebration early Sunday.
On the lawn outside Maria DeLaLuz Hernandez' home in Mission, Texas, relatives and neighbors sang hymns in honor of Edgar's release.
"It's a day of jubilation," said Jesus Cantu, a friend of the family.
And in Kansas, Miller's brother wept when he heard the news.
The Rev. Ron Pracht, pastor of Miller's church in Wichita, Kan., and a spokesman for Miller's wife, Jessa, said he was excited for the family.
"I am so relieved. I'm celebrating without question," he said. "We will do some heavy-duty shouting."
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)