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Sunday, April 13

Athol and Jane Riley to reporters outside of their home in Pennsauken, N.J., after their son, Sgt. James Riley, was rescued with six other American POW's April 13 in Iraq. (Carlos J. Ortiz/Camden, N.J., Courier-Post)

Families confirm release of 5 POWs from Ft. Bliss, Texas

By Charles K. Wilson | El Paso Times

Updated 11:15 a.m., April 13

EL PASO, Texas - Five members of the 507th Maintenance Company were among seven American prisoners of war rescued by Marines Sunday, their families said.

The families of Spc. Shoshana Johnson of El Paso, Spc. Joseph Hudson of Alamogordo, N.M., Spc. Edgar Hernandez of Alton, Texas, Pfc. Patrick Miller of Park City, Kan., and Sgt. James Riley of Pennsauken, N.J., said military officials had told them their loved ones were safe and in the hands of American forces.

Read biographies of the five Ft. Bliss soldiers who were rescued

Johnson's family gathered at her parents' Northeast El Paso home this morning as word of the rescue was broadcast on TV.

"We are ecstatic that not only she is safe, but all the POWs are back in U.S. hands," her father, Claude Johnson, said in a prepared statement after being formally notified by the military that she was safe. "We thank God for watching over them. We are grateful for all the worldwide prayers."

There was similar joy 90 miles away in Hudson's hometown, Alamogordo.

"The Army brought good news for me. They have soldiers and Joseph is one of them," Hudson's mother, Anacita, said.

Hernandez's family was visited by an Army sergeant Sunday morning who notified them Hernandez was released and was in good condition.

"The sergeant is here right now and this is very good news," said younger brother Marco Hernandez. "He's alive and he's in good condition, we're really happy."

The family was notified that Hernandez and the other prisoners of war will be taken to Kuwait for treatment before they return to the United States.

Miller's mother, Mary Pickering of Farmington, N.M., saw her son on CNN video before receiving official confirmation from the military.

"We thank God our prayers were answered," Pickering said. "It's the best feeling I have had in a long time. I never gave up. The first time I see him, all I'm going to say is 'I love you.'"

Riley's father, Athol Riley, told CNN that the military had notified the family early today that their son was safe.

Military officials would confirm only that seven POWs had been rescued.

"We don't know if the rescued seven servicemen are the seven POWs, missing or a combination of the two," said Lt. Herb Josey from Central Command in Doha, Qatar. "We have not identified them that (as POWs) way."

The five 507th members were captured after being ambushed March 23 near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Nine other members of the unit were killed and four were injured. Another unit member Pfc. Jessica Lynch, also was captured but was freed by U.S. commandos in an April 1 raid of a hospital where she was being treated.

The military has listed seven soldiers as Iraqi captives -- the five soldiers from the 507th and two Apache helicopter pilots, Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, Orlando, Fla., and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, Lithia Springs, Ga.

Five others U.S. forces have been listed as missing.

Families of the Apache pilots told CNN that they recognized their loved ones in video broadcast of the POWs being put aboard a U.S. plane.

Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said the "jubilant" news is a great comfort to the military community, who less than three days earlier said goodbye to nine of the members of the 507th in a memorial attended by several thousand and broadcast nationally on television.

Josey, of Central Command, said the identities of the rescued troops would be made when their next of kin are notified.

The Pentagon said the 24th Marine Expeditionary unit rescued the POWs Sunday.

The soldiers were found, according to media reports, on a road between Baghdad and Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

"I believe our guys picked them up on the road," Army Gen. Tommy Franks, the war’s commander and head of U.S. Central Command, told CNN this morning.

"I know they're in good shape and I know they're in our hands and under our control now," he told CNN.

(Contributing: Laura Cruz, Maribel Villalva and Paula Diaz with the El Paso Times)