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Ex-POWS Update; Former POWS Appear for Photo Opportunity

Aired April 18, 2003 - 06:01   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, though, let's not waste time. Let's go right to Germany and Matthew Chance. We understand those seven American POWs are about to make an appearance.
Bring us up-to-date -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Carol. And that's right. In fact, the commander of the U.S. Army medical facility here, Colonel David Rubenstein, is making some comments about the medical condition of those prisoners of war, the rescued prisoners of war, right now.

Why don't we listen in to what he has to say in the moments before those prisoners of war step out onto the balcony here at Landstuhl?


COL. DAVID RUBENSTEIN, CMDR., LANDSTUHL MEDICAL CENTER: ... 20th of March since the start of Operation of Iraqi Freedom, 588 wounded warriors have been evacuated to Landstuhl. There is an evacuation mission scheduled to arrive here later today. Of the 588 wounded warriors, 241 have been injured in combat.

At the same time that the staff here cares for these patients, our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and civilians who have been killed on the battlefield and who are missing.

The staff also continues to care for our 300,000 day-to-day beneficiaries from throughout Europe, Africa and Southwest Asia. For example, the staff here has delivered 87 babies since the first battle injury patient arrived a few weeks ago. And yesterday, we admitted a 2-year-old family member, a young child, from the American Embassy in Romania.

The staff, as you know, is also caring for repatriated prisoners of war. As you know, Private First Class Lynch departed last Saturday, and she is receiving the absolute best and superb health care from the caring staff at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The seven most recently repatriated soldiers have been here since Wednesday night. All of the returnees are in good spirits, and are eagerly anticipating their journey home. They have received thorough physical assessments, and none of their injuries appear to be serious. Three of the soldiers had sustained gunshot wounds, but all are recovering well from these injuries. The prognosis for all of them is excellent.

Attending to their physical and mental well-being is the Landstuhl staff's primary concern. Their appetites are very good, and they are taking full advantage of our excellent dining facility.

These soldiers slept very well last night, and awoke feeling rested. While here at Landstuhl, they are continuing to progress through debriefing and other aspects of the repatriation process. They are spending their free time resting, speaking with friends and family, and catching up on the latest movies and news.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my honor to present to you the seven soldiers recently repatriated from captivity in Iraq.


CHANCE: Well, Carol, there are the seven rescued prisoners of war coming out on the balcony here at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility in Germany.

C.W.O. DAVID WILLIAMS, FORMER POW: I'm C.W.O. David Williams, and on behalf of my fellow soldiers, I'd like to take a brief moment to let everyone know that we're receiving outstanding medical care. And I'd like to thank all of my fellow Americans -- we all would like to thank our Americans for the tremendous support we've been getting, and we're looking forward to coming home as soon as we possibly can.

I'd just like remind everyone to say a special prayer for all of those who are still fighting on the American fence, OK? And God bless America.


WILLIAMS: And we love you all.


QUESTION: How do you feel about your captors?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I get back to the States, I'll talk about it.

CHANCE: Well, Carol, there you have it. A very short opportunity for us to get some glimpse of those seven rescued prisoners of war, as they were flown in here on Wednesday night as Colonel Rubenstein said to us earlier.

A very short comment there from senior Warrant Officer David Williams, who is 30 years old, of Orlando, Florida. He was the pilot of the Apache helicopter gunship that made a hard landing in a hostile area south of Baghdad on the 24th of March, along with his co-pilot, Warrant Officer Ronald Young, who was standing right next to him.

The other five individuals were from the 507th Maintenance Company that was hijacked -- or rather, ambushed on the road into Nasiriya in Iraq, after they took a wrong turn. It was the company that Jessica Lynch, the other rescued prisoner of war, came from.

You may have seen, sitting down as well, Shoshana Johnson, the specialist trooper from Texas, who appeared on Iraqi television. I don't know whether you saw those images, her looking absolutely terrified at that time when she was being questioned by Iraqi, or Arabic-speaking journalists at least. She's the one with the most serious injuries. We're told she was shot with a bullet through both of her ankles during that ambush of the convoy near Nasiriya.

But as we've heard from Colonel David Rubenstein, all of the three who were injured are making good recoveries, and their prognosis, he says, was excellent.

COSTELLO: Yes, definitely so. Just to follow up on that, he said they were in good spirits, they really want to go home, no injuries were serious, but three of them had been shot. And perhaps it's no surprise that Chief Warrant Officer David Williams did the talking, because he kind of took the lead when all of them were held in captivity.

CHANCE: Yes, that's right. That's certainly what we've been hearing from the reports. What they've indicated to other reporters as they were taken out of Iraq that it was that individual, Warrant Officer David Williams, the pilot of the Apache helicopter gunship, that very much took the lead. He was certainly the most senior figure, military figure, amongst the seven held in captivity by their Iraqi guards.

And so, it fell to him the responsibility to sort of represent their interests, arguing for them -- I remember reading -- to be moved to a safer location. When they were sort of held down in an Iraqi prison, they could hear coalition bombs exploding very close by, obviously very concerned that they would be hit by one of those bombs, because obviously the coalition didn't know exactly where they would be.

He asked to be moved to a safer location, was rebuffed initially, but apparently as time wore on, we hear the guards became more and more sympathetic, the guards changed from Iraqi military officers to Iraqi police. And even at some point, the last guards that they were under used their own money to buy food and medicine to make sure they were kept in as good a condition as possible under the circumstances in Iraq. And they certainly have indicated that they don't hold any grudges against at least those last guards that they came under the guard of.

COSTELLO: Yes, I'm sure they have much more to say. I heard that shouted question about, how did they feel about their captors? And of course, they couldn't answer that right now.

When will they be back in the States? We understand they may be back as soon as tomorrow.

CHANCE: Well, that's our understanding, too, and it's certainly the indication that we've been getting from their families. But those families haven't come out openly and said that. Certainly the military officials here in Landstuhl, Germany have not been categorical about when they'll be going back, but you know, there are flights back to the States on Saturday from the Ramstein U.S. Air Force Base a short distance from here. It's usually the day they go back on, and as you can see, you know, they're in physically good shape. There doesn't seem to be any obvious reason, to us at least, of why they should be kept here any longer.

But again, there's been no official announcement at this stage, at least from here, about when they'll be going home.

COSTELLO: Understand. Thanks for bringing that to us. Matthew Chance live in Landstuhl, Germany this morning.


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