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Thursday, June 12

Modest former POW basks in glow of congressional tribute

By Sergio Bustos | GNS

WASHINGTON - Former prisoner of war Shoshana Johnson insists that she's no hero.

But that didn't stop the Congressional Black Caucus from honoring the El Paso, Texas, soldier in a rousing and emotional tribute Thursday that included the U.S. Army Brass Quintet and Color Guard.

The event attracted dozens of congressional staffers, U.S. Army officials and a gaggle of reporters and photographers who packed a large room in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Over and over again, the lawmakers praised Johnson as both a hero and a ``she-ro.'' At one point, they broke out with ``hip-hip hooray!'' during a 90-minute ceremony that brought tears to the eyes of Johnson's mother, Eunice. Johnson's aunt, Joanne Armentine, also attended the tribute.

Johnson, a 30-year-old Army specialist, was captured March 23 along with five other members of the 507th Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss when Iraqis ambushed their convoy near Nasiriyah. She spent several weeks as a POW before being released April 13. She returned to active duty last month at Fort Bliss.

Dressed in her Army uniform, Johnson sat quietly and smiled as a parade of lawmakers spoke with pride about her service as a soldier and an African-American woman.

``Specialist Johnson was the first African-American woman ever held as prisoner of war, yet her plight resonated with all Americans - and all peoples around the world,'' said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., who chairs the 39-member Congressional Black Caucus.

``We are here to commend a hero who represents the highest ideals of patriotism and sacrifice,'' he said.

Lawmakers from New York, California and other states voiced similar admiration. Among them was Johnson's congressman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas.

``She doesn't think she's a hero,'' said Reyes. He then gestured toward Johnson and said: ``You are a hero. You are a role model.''

Moments later, though she wasn't scheduled to make a speech, Johnson - still hobbled by the pain of ankle and foot injuries suffered in Iraq - got up and stepped to the podium. The crowd went silent.

``I would like to say thank you to the Congressional Black Caucus for this honor - an honor I don't feel I deserve,'' she said. ``Like many soldiers, I was just doing my duty.''

She then asked everyone to pray for the safe return of thousands of U.S. soldiers, including her cousin, still fighting in Iraq.

The crowd rose to its feet and burst into loud applause.