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Bush visits freed POWs at Easter service

President and Laura Bush pose with Chief Warrant Officers Ronald Young Jr., left, and David Williams on Sunday.
President and Laura Bush pose with Chief Warrant Officers Ronald Young Jr., left, and David Williams on Sunday.

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FORT HOOD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush emerged from an Easter service Sunday attended by two former prisoners of war saying, "I thank God for their lives."

Bush, accompanied by his wife, Laura, spoke to reporters briefly, flanked by Chief Warrant Officers David Williams and Ronald Young Jr., the Apache helicopter pilots who were freed April 13, after being held captive in Iraq for almost three weeks.

"I am particularly grateful that these two men were with us today," Bush said after the service attended by soldiers at Fort Hood, which is home to more than 20,000 troops fighting in Iraq.

Bush put his arm around Williams' shoulder and told reporters to ask their questions quickly because Williams had not gotten a chance to see his children since the pilots arrived at the post just before 11:45 p.m. Saturday night (12:45 a.m. EDT Sunday).

Bush said that the United States would not declare victory until Gen. Tommy Franks, the top U.S. military commander in the region, says the war is complete.

He said there were "positive signs" that Syria would heed U.S. demands that it not harbor members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

"There's some positive signs. They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high ranking Iraqi officials," he said.

The two pilots are members of the 4th Aviation Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. They were captured March 24, when anti-aircraft fire forced down their Apache helicopter.

Williams said it was "an absolute honor" to meet with the president and Young described it as "one of the highlights of my life."

The pilots returned to the United States on Saturday with five members of the 507th Maintenance Company, who were captured after their convoy was ambushed March 23 outside Nasiriya, Iraq. (Slide Show: Relatives learn POWs are freed)

Upon arrival at Fort Bliss, the soldiers' cargo plane was still taxiing down the runway when two of the former POWs -- Spec. Joseph Hudson and Pfc. Patrick Miller -- popped their heads out of the top of the moving plane.

Miller held a large American flag, while Hudson stood behind, pumping his fists into the air.

The other returning members of the 507th are Spec. Shoshana Johnson of El Paso, Texas; Spec. Edgar Hernandez of Mission, Texas; and Sgt. James Riley of Pennsauken, New Jersey. (Gallery: The rescued POWs)

The soldiers at Fort Bliss were treated to a short, private reception with their families and then had a brief medical screening. They will be given Sunday off before going through more medical examinations Monday, said Col. Ben Hobson, chief of staff at Fort Bliss.

U.S. troops rescued the seven soldiers April 13 after almost three weeks of captivity.


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