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Joy For Families of Freed POWs

Joy For Families of Freed POWs

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EL PASO, Texas (AP) -- Just two days after Fort Bliss mourned nine soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company, "great rejoicing" began with word that five other members of the unit who were taken prisoner in Iraq are now free.

"When it all started it was like a nightmare," Joel Hernandez told NBC's "Today" show Monday about the capture of his brother, Army Spc. Edgar Alan Hernandez. "We were just waiting for good news and we got that good news, and now it's time to celebrate."

Hernandez and six other POWs were picked up Sunday by U.S. forces advancing toward Tikrit. The six men and one woman included the five from the 507th and two Apache helicopter pilots from Fort Hood near Killeen.

Some of the POWs' families found out their loved ones were free from watching television.

"When I saw him, it was like somebody had won the World Series. Everybody was jumping around and hollering," Ron Young Sr. of Lithia Springs, Ga., said about his son, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young Jr., one of the pilots. His helicopter was forced down March 24.

"It may have been the greatest point in my life." The joy was tempered by the fact that two members of the 507th -- Spc. James Kiehl, of Comfort, and Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, of El Paso -- were to be buried Monday.

"We were happy for the rest of the POWs because we thought they were dead as well," said Alma Wallace, a cousin of Estrella-Soto.

It was only Friday that photos of nine slain members of the 507th were displayed at a memorial that drew thousands.

In that tearful remembrance, the unit's command sergeant major called out the names of the dead, three times each. Grizzled veterans struggled to hold back tears and others dabbed their eyes with tissues.

Fifteen soldiers from the 507th were ambushed March 23 near Nasiriyah, northwest of Basra. One of them, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, was rescued two weeks ago.

The newly freed members of the 507th are Hernandez, 21, of Mission; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of Fort Bliss; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, of Park City, Kan.; and Sgt. James Riley, 31, of Pennsauken, N.J.

The two freed pilots were Young and Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando, Fla.

"I've always remained positive," said Williams' father, David Williams Sr. "When you believe in God as I do and my son does, you know he will come back home safely."

After the capture of the 507th members, Iraqi TV showed some answering questions, darting their eyes back and forth between an interviewer and another person who couldn't be seen on camera.

Miller's mother said she was elated at the new television images of her son -- wearing blue shorts and a long-sleeved shirt -- being transferred from a helicopter into an ambulance.

"He looked great -- just like he did before he left except that his hair was longer," Mary Pickering said. "I've been crying a lot today. It's been so stressful."

Miller's rescue was announced at the Palm Sunday service at Olivet Southern Baptist Church in Wichita.

"For the good news about Patrick ... let there be great rejoicing," the Rev. Ron Pracht told his congregation.

In front of Johnson's home El Paso home, trucker Kenneth Wayne Krueger leaped out of his rig, unable to contain his happiness. Krueger had served two years at Fort Bliss with Shoshana Johnson's father.

"I'm just so happy!" Krueger shouted as he jumped up and down hugging Johnson's mother, Eunice. Horns blared all day outside the home.

Riley's father, Athol Riley, said he maintained hope throughout the ordeal that his son would not be killed or injured. "I don't really think people are inherently bad," he said. "Generally people have a good side, and that includes the Iraqis."

Col. Ben Hobson, the Fort Bliss chief of staff, cheered Sunday's rescue, but he also remembered those whose loved ones are not coming home: "It's great news for us, but it doesn't help those who weren't as fortunate," he said.

Other families still 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 still missing. "We certainly hope they find him."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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