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Families hoping for POWs' safety, speedy return

Message to captive sister: 'Stay strong; keep your dignity'

American prisoners of war in Iraqi custody include, clockwise from top left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley.
American prisoners of war in Iraqi custody include, clockwise from top left: Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Spc. Edgar Hernandez, Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, and Sgt. James Riley.

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Family members hope for the safe return of the POWs. CNN's Brian Cabell reports.
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FORT BLISS, Texas (CNN) -- The war against Iraq hit home for Americans when images of captured Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, Pfc. Patrick Miller, Spc. Shoshana Johnson, Sgt. James Riley and Spc. Edgar Hernandez in Iraq flickered onto TV screens and Internet sites.

The five POWs -- members of the 507th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss, Texas -- were interviewed in a video from Iraqi state-run television broadcast on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite network based in Qatar.

The images of Miller, 23, Hudson, 24, Johnson, 30, Riley, 31, and Hernandez, 21, shocked their relatives, friends and neighbors at the post and their homes.

In all, 12 soldiers from their maintenance group are unaccounted for -- either captured, dead or missing -- after fierce fighting Sunday at Nasiriya in south-central Iraq.

Johnson -- the daughter of a Persian Gulf War veteran and mother of a 2-year-old girl -- has always had "an angel following her around" and "always manages to get out of stuff," her sister Nikki Johnson said Monday.

Shoshana Johnson entered the Army in September 1998 to get experience as a chef. She is now one of seven known POWs being held in Iraq.

"Hopefully, her angel is still with her," said her sister, an army captain stationed at Fort Lee, Virginia, who flew home after being told her sister had been taken captive. "This was not something we thought was going to happen to her at all."

Her message to her older sister: "Stay strong; keep your dignity."

Nikki Johnson said her parents were channel surfing Sunday -- looking for a cartoon for their granddaughter to watch -- when they saw video of their Shoshana being broadcast by Spanish-language television station Telemundo, before the family had even learned she was missing.

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"It was wrong for them to broadcast that before the families were notified," Nikki Johnson said.

She added that she didn't necessarily think it was wrong for the Iraqis to videotape their American prisoners because, "You get to see the condition the soldiers are in now. It'll be very hard for them to mistreat them and try and say, 'Oh, we found them that way.'"

Claude Johnson, a retired sergeant who fought in the 1991 war, said the capture of his daughter and the other POWs should provide lessons for the Pentagon.

"The instant we found out they were prisoners, we should have been talking to the people in the Red Cross and ensuring that somebody got out there," he said. "We can't turn the clock back. What is done is done. Now is the time to get the people from the Red Cross or whatever organization is available to go in and make a true assessment, and then we can go from there."

Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. Central Command, said he is "sure" the Red Cross will be able to visit the captured Americans "very soon" to make sure "they're well cared for."

Frightening news on TV

In New Mexico, Anecita Hudson sat on a couch in her home in Alamogordo, about two hours north of Fort Bliss, for an interview with Albuquerque's KOAT-TV.

Hudson said she first heard the news of her son's capture Sunday morning as she made coffee. A friend called to tell her to turn on a Filipino TV channel, which was showing pictures of the just-captured POWs.

"I said, 'How come Joe is on TV?' " the soldier's mother said.

"The Filipino channel that I was watching -- he was on it -- and being interviewed by the other cameramen in Iraq," she said in a shaky voice. "Of course, the Iraqi people, I think, showed the whole world what is going on, and of course, I guess they'd be proud that they captured some Americans, and one of them is my son."

start quoteHe looks OK, but I can see [in] his face that he's confused and scared. He's very scared. end quote
-- Anecita Hudson, mother of POW Joseph Hudson

Hudson was shown wearing his Army uniform. He identified himself on camera.

"He's a really good son and a good husband, and I know he misses us and we miss him," Anecita Hudson said.

"He looks OK, but I can see [in] his face that he's confused and scared," she said. "He's very scared. That's why I start crying, because he looks so scared."

Anecita Hudson said officials at Fort Bliss told the POW's wife Sunday that he had been captured. The two have a 5-year-old daughter.

She said she thinks the Iraqis killed other members of her son's group. "I start shaking," she said, tears running down her cheeks.

"I just would like [to say] to the president of United States of America [to] do something about it -- to save my son," she said. "And I want him to come home."

Hope for humane treatment

Miller's half-brother, Thomas Hershberger, was interviewed Monday on CNN's "American Morning with Paula Zahn."

"We are glad he wasn't killed," Hershberger said. "We hope he makes it back. We all love him, and we hope he is treated humanely."

Miller, a native of the Wichita, Kansas, area, has a 4-year-old son and a 7-month-old daughter.

Fort Bliss is best known as the training center for the soldiers who man Patriot missile batteries. The Fort Bliss units were credited with knocking out two Iraqi missiles launched into Kuwait this week.


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