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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

CNN Special Report: Rescue of the POWs

Aired April 13, 2003 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: A CNN Special Report - the rescue of the POWs.
It was a lightning speed operation. The Marines move in, the Iraqis giving up the captive Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Great day. Great day for the families, comrades, loved ones. The seven missing in action were freed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Back in the U.S., incredible, unbelievable joy. Fearful families realizing their prayers had been answered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could not tell, and then when they showed that close-up of him running and grinning, I knew. That smile, you know, you can't, you just - the smile is his.

ANNOUNCER: Then after the immediate celebration, trying to describe the indescribable, struggling to say what can only be felt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't explain this feeling, where you can't really - there's no words that - they couldn't, you know. Like, there's no way that you can describe how good I feel right now.

ANNOUNCER: The rescue of the POWs with Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR, THE RESCUE OF THE POWS: You're looking at an exclusive video of those seven former POWs, making their way off an Army rescue helicopters.

U.S. Marines found them in the town of Samarra, after a tip from an Iraqi police officer.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, THE RESCUE OF THE POWS: Coming up in the next hour, reactions from the freed POWs' families, plus details on the incredible rescue. First we start with the time when events began to unfold.

BLITZER: And those events began to unfold with word that several Americans had been rescued during the 6:00 a.m. Eastern hour. General Tommy Franks had just received the initial indications, when I was interviewing him during that hour. But he couldn't be sure, even then, whether there had been six or seven POWs that had been rescued. He wasn't even sure they were formally listed as prisoners of war.

GEN. TOMMY FRANKS, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: When I was walking out to come over here, to talk to you, I got a report that six or seven, in fact, people we had listed as missing.

And that's an interesting point, because I don't know that - I know they're in good shape, and I know they're in our hands and under our control, now, and that's very good.

What I don't know, is if they're from - the ones we had listed as prisoners of war, or whether they're from the missing category.

So, in the hours ahead, we'll get better definition, but that's where we stand right now.

COOPER: And that definition came quickly. Matthew Fisher of Canada's "National Post" is embedded with the Marines outside Tikrit. He reported that a Marine battalion was on an unrelated mission, when an Iraqi man approached.

MATTHEW FISHER, "NATIONAL POST" OF CANADA: The man approached their vehicle. My understanding is that he was a police officer, and he said, you have come to get the prisoners. I had nothing to do with it. But I'll (ph) (UNINTELLIGIBLE) them (ph).

And the man took them, the Americans who - the Marines were astonished. They were taken and found the prisoners.

And immediately, they said they broke into tears. There was incredible joy at this, and they thanked them and said they were so glad to be speaking with Americans again, and to be in the company of Americans.

BLITZER: The first stop for the rescued Americans was a coalition base not far from Baghdad. CNN had exclusive pictures, and our Bob Franken was on the scene.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I wanted to just give you some embellishments of what we've reported. Of course, you've been watching, as they got off their two helicopters from where they were picked up.

We go out to this base where we are, you just described it as about 65 miles south of Baghdad. And they'd been taken here - from here to a base in Kuwait.

Now, they are investigating, to see if, in fact, these seven are the missing members of the 507th Maintenance Group that was lost near Nasiriya, and the two missing Apache pilots. So investigating to see if that, in fact, is the case. Now, what they are saying is, is that the officers in the units that were holding these seven deserted. Of course, there's been an awful lot of that as this war has progressed.

The junior members of that unit decided that they would take their prisoners with them. They saw a Marine unit walk - lead (ph) off the Marine towards Tikrit, which of course, is the sight of the battle that's going on.

This particular unit was going to be one of the blocking units, that is to say, to make sure that nothing came from the back.

Iraqis surrendered to the Marine unit, turned over the prisoners and, of course, were taken into custody themselves. We're being told that the Iraqis - we don't have a number on them - are at this moment being briefed by intelligence forces - debriefed - to see if they can give them any further information.

Officials here say that every time they go out, they check suspected sites of POWs and MIAs. But in this particular case, the POWs came to them. Of course, we were delighted.

As you watched when they got off the plane, greeted with applause. They were enthusiastic. Five of them were very mobile, literally sprinting to the vehicle that was going to transport them to their plane, raising their fists in the air.

There were two others who had injuries, who were more injured, but were mobile themselves, obviously not in a life-threatening situation, and they have been taken - all of them taken to Kuwait where they, of course, will receive more medical attention. And, of course, get a much more extensive briefing.

It's a very happy moment here. The Marines who were brought for the airfield at this location, were applauding as the rescued POWs went past. They were very, very proud here, as you might imagine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Wonderful to see those pictures. Later, it was confirmed that the seven Americans rescued were indeed the seven Americans listed as prisoners of war.

Now, five members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company and two Apache helicopter pilots.

Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young, Jr., of Lithia Springs, Georgia, one of the freed pilots. Young's parents were watching CNN when they spotted their son among the freed prisoners, and they knew he was safe.

They spoke with us about it during the 9:00 a.m. hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, let's see if we can keep playing these pictures, and when his face pops up, I want you to yell.

RON YOUNG, SR., FATHER OF RESCUED POW: OK.

O'BRIEN: And ...

R. YOUNG: He had a blue set of - looks like pajamas almost on.

KAYE YOUNG, MOTHER OF RESCUED POW: Pajamas on.

O'BRIEN: OK. Let's go ahead and roll these - see - is that him there?

R. YOUNG: That's him. That's him.

O'BRIEN: That's him. Now, I understand mama's on the phone, too. Kaye, are you there.

K. YOUNG: I'm here.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's here it from you. How do you feel?

K. YOUNG: Oh, I am so excited. I just called my mother in the hospital. She's in the hospital in Augusta, and was able to talk with her.

And she finally found the pictures on the TV, and she's excited. We all cried and just - we're thrilled to death, of course.

O'BRIEN: I'm sure ...

K. YOUNG: And he looked so good. He is just - I mean, he's running.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Mothers are great, aren't they? When this CNN Special Report continues, retracing the steps of the 507th after it ran into an Iraqi ambush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am so happy, I can't help it, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) knows I've been praying for him.

COOPER: And the joy of family and friends. The overwhelming emotions as they get the news that their soldiers, their loved ones are finally free.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Our look back at this remarkable day, this remarkable rescue continues. The 507th Maintenance Company - they're based at Fort Bliss, Texas.

They're in Iraq to keep the supply lines moving. It turned out to be no simple mission. The company was part of the initial push by U.S. troops through the Iraqi desert.

But something went wrong somewhere near Nasiriya. Part of the group got separated from the mainline, and they came under attack.

When the POWs resurfaced, they were found in the town of Samarra, 25 miles south of Tikrit, 75 miles north of Baghdad.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company were counted on to keep the supply lines moving. U.S. Representative Sylvester Reyes of El Paso, has met with two soldiers wounded in the attack on the Fort Bliss troops.

REP. SYLVESTER REYES, (D) TEXAS: We unfortunately found out the attack strategy of the Iraqis. And that was to attack the supply line - a supply line that was very long, that was in its initial stages, as we sped towards Baghdad.

COOPER: Exactly what happened is still unclear. According to initial reports, the maintenance soldiers had made a wrong turn and drove into an Iraqi ambush in the early morning hours of March 23, outside Nasiriya.

GEN. HOWARD BROMBERG, U.S. ARMY: Took a turn, they realized there were sandbags on either side of the road, ditches. And heavy weapons began firing. They returned fire, very valiantly. They are brave soldiers that fought very well.

COOPER: But some relatives of the 507th soldiers say they heard members of the unit did not make a wrong turn.

HECTOR PEREZ, RELATIVE OF U.S. SOLDIER: It was that they stayed behind, you know, fixing up some other vehicles that had, you know, been - with troubles, you know. So they stayed there.

REYES: They were trying to catch up with the main convoy, to the big convoy, when they were ambushed.

COOPER: Whether or not they were left behind is not yet clear. U.S. military officials have said that an irregular Iraqi force attacked the soldiers on a bridge.

But some say that "irregular" label doesn't give the Iraqi force enough credit.

REYES: If they were irregulars, they fought very fiercely. They were well coordinated. They, from what the sergeants tell me, the ambush was well executed.

CNN: The Iraqi force fought off a U.S. Marine unit that rescued several wounded soldiers and recovered two dead. Fifteen other soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company were initially reported as missing.

Nine of those soldiers were killed. Six have been rescued, including Private Jessica Lynch.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let's go back to Wolf Blitzer now in Doha, Qatar - Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Anderson.

Seven American prisoners of war rescued. Six men, one woman.

That woman, Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson. She had a bandaged right ankle when she was rescued.

A statement from her family said this, among other things. They thank God for watching over Shoshana and the rest of the rescued soldiers.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is now at their home base, the home base of the 507th Maintenance Company. That's in Fort Bliss, Texas. He's joining us now live.

I know, Ed, you've spent a lot of time with this Johnson family, a very loving family. How happy are they right now?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I don't know if there's any clear way of putting all that in perspective for them. A family friend told me a little while ago that they really spent most of the day today just soaking in everything that has been going on.

They've been up since the early morning hours when news of this was first starting to break, and have been watching it closely, just as they were three weeks ago today when Claude Johnson had woken up on a Sunday morning to find cartoons for his granddaughter to watch on television.

And when the first images started appearing from Arab television, showing that his daughter had become a prisoner of war. And that was a very dark day, a very sad day.

But this morning, the complete opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Ken Kruger (ph) used to serve in the Army with Shoshana Johnson's father. As soon as he heard the news that his buddy's daughter had been rescued, he drove right over to celebrate.

For three weeks the Johnson family had waited for word about 30- year-old Shoshana. Two days ago, the family attended a memorial service at Fort Bliss for nine of her fellow soldiers, killed in an early morning ambush in southern Iraq.

The Johnson family held on to hope. They described Shoshana as a fighter, who's always made it through the toughest. NIKKI JOHNSON, SISTER OF RESCUED POW: We are ecstatic, that not only she is safe, but all the POWs are back in the U.S. - in the U.S.'s hands.

We thank God for watching over them. We are very grateful for all the worldwide prayers.

LAVANDERA: Johnson is the daughter of a Gulf War veteran. She joined the Army five years ago, working as a chef for the 507th Maintenance Company.

Now her family and friends can prepare for a hero's return, and one of Shoshana's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

KEN: Yee-haw! Come on home soon, Shoshana!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: Well, something tells me that before Shoshana Johnson cooks for her own family, they will make - be more than happy to make a well-cooked meal for her.

Shoshana's sister Nikki had told me three weeks ago that her sister was a fighter and able to - has always been able to make it through some of the toughest situations in her own life. And this is another example and testament to that will, her sister says.

Also, though, another sad note from this base in particular. Just the extreme of emotions that they've been having to deal with here. As you heard in the piece, two days ago this base was at a memorial service for the nine soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company that were killed in action.

And today, the funeral services for Ruben Estrella-Soto, the youngest member of the company, who was killed in action. So it was a day of great joy, but also an important reminder that there are other families from this same group that are suffering very much indeed. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: And there certainly are. And we think of them at this moment. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

Word that another POW, James Riley, was safe, was waiting for his family when they returned to their New Jersey home after church.

A lawn-full of media gave the good news away. The sergeant's family went through what his mother called an emotional roller coaster.

CNN's Whitney Casey is at the family's home in Pennsauken, New Jersey. Whitney, what a day.

WHITNEY CASEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what a day. You're so right, Anderson.

And they have experienced that roller coaster was a gamut of emotions. They actually say they may be experiencing some of that emotion fatigue, because just three days after they found out that their son was a prisoner of war, they also found out that their daughter Mary had just died. She had been in a coma for a long time before her brother left for the war. She died of a rare neurological disease.

But they had to experience throughout these three weeks that extreme grieve, and then this extreme euphoria. So that's what sort of brought them into that state of emotional fatigue. But they got the news today at eight o'clock. They woke up. They heard it on the radio. Then they went to church, as you said.

And then they came home and it was confirmed. And then just hours later they got to get on the phone and actually talk to their son James.

And unfortunately, though, they did have to tell him. He asked how his sister was doing, and they had to tell him that she had died. Although they were able to lift his spirits with some other news.

And then they asked him, what would you like us to fix you when you come home to eat? And he said, well, I know what I don't want. And I don't want chicken and rice.

But, joining us right now, we have some of the neighborhood. These are the kids that have sort of been running around here. There are yellow ribbons and American flags all over the place hear. And this is such a great little story.

Angelique came up to me today, and she said, excuse me, ma'am. I don't want to bother you, but I just want to tell you something. I just want to tell you that - you told them what you said earlier to me today.

You said you just were so excited. Why?

ANGELIQUE, NEIGHBOR OF RESCUED POW'S FAMILY: Because my dad told me that he has returned home safely, and that just made my day.

CASEY: And you have been riding by here. And you said, every time you ride by you stop. And what would you do, on your bike.

ANGELIQUE: I said ...

CASEY: And why?

ANGELIQUE: Because their son is in the war, and I would make sure that they are feeling all right.

CASEY: And all of your little friends behind you right here, they've all been experiencing that same thing. And all in their faces, you can see the amount of joy. I just want - the joy that all of this neighborhood was feeling today with the news that the family was now getting their son back, James.

And thank you so much for hanging out with us. And you, I know, it's probably past your bed time.

ANGELIQUE: No problem.

CASEY: No problem. But again, the family is very excited. Going through those emotions, I'm sure. And all of us today, they've been speaking with us and they say, when their son gets back, he painted this house yellow behind them, and they have a lot of work for him to do when he gets back, and they can't wait - Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Whitney Casey. An exciting day for a lot of us. Thanks very much, Whitney. Appreciate it.

Well, as you know, five of the seven POWs rescued today were part of the 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed, of course.

But what about the other two? How did two Apache helicopter pilots end up in the hands of Iraqi troops? We are going to take a look at that, right after the break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to our Special Report, the Rescue of American POWs. I'm Wolf Blitzer reporting live tonight from Doha, Qatar. Anderson Cooper is in the CNN newsroom in Atlanta.

Chief Warrant Officers Ronald Young, Jr. and David S. Williams were among those who were rescued today. Seven American POWs rescued. These two were the captured. They were originally captured on March 24, when their Apache helicopter went down in Karbala, behind Iraqi lines.

They were found today in Samarra, about 175 miles away.

CNN's David Mattingly has more now on how it all happened.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NEWS: Sunday, March 23, a day of sandstorms and a night of heavy Iraqi resistance.

Thirty-two helicopters are turned back during a pitched battle for the city of Karbala. One of them, an Apache Longbow, goes down in the darkness.

On board, Army Chief Warrant Officers Ron Young, Jr. and David Williams - both out of Fort Hood, Texas. The Army later told their families two rescue attempts for the pilots were also repelled by Republican Guards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They really had a tough time. They said that they - that the whole battalion was really just - really upset, because they had to leave them two guys behind.

And I'm sure that they did - I think they did what they had to do to try to get them. MATTINGLY: The very next day, Monday, March 24, it was clear, Young and Williams had been captured. Their pictures, along with five other U.S. POWs, broadcast on Al-Jazeera.

The 26-year-old Young appeared holding a glass of tea. The 30- year-old Williams was chewing gum, and at one point drinking a glass of water.

The video of the two pilots lasted just 35 seconds. But for the families, it was at once agonizing, but also a relief to see them alive and apparently uninjured.

DAVID WILLIAMS, SR., FATHER OF RESCUED POW: I know that he has a strong will to survive, and that he'll pray a lot. He believes in God. And we know that God looks after us. So, I'm sure that he'll do very well.

MATTINGLY: But after this video, days would pass, then weeks, with no word of their whereabouts or condition.

CNN ANNOUNCER: The word we've gotten this morning coming out of Iraq ...

MATTINGLY: But then, April 13, without warning, seven American POWs emerge alive and free - rescued by Marines in a town north of Baghdad. Among them, a thin and bearded Ron Young, seen jogging to a military truck.

Right behind him, David Williams, smiling and thanking his rescuers.

Twenty-three days after their helicopter crashed in the Iraqi desert, two U.S. pilots are coming home.

David Mattingly, CNN.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: As you'd expect, today was quite a happy day for the families of the rescued POWs, to say the least. CNN's Jamie Colby is with the wife of one of them. She's standing by in Killeen, Texas - Jamie.

JAMIE COLBY, CNN NEWS, KILLEEN, TEXAS: Anderson, good evening to you.

It has been quite a day here at the Williams household. And for all of Killeen, Texas, where Fort Hood is based. A very happy town that had been praying and pulling for the safe return of both Ronald Young and David Williams.

Michelle Williams has asked the media to allow her a quiet evening tonight with her family. She is at home behind us. But I did have a chance to both be on the phone with her this morning when she saw that first video of her husband that CNN broadcast. She said he looks very well. And then when I visited with her for a short time this afternoon, she told me she had had a chance to talk with David for about 10 minutes today. She says he sounds strong and he sounds well. He also had a chance to talk to his 2-year-old son Jason who said, hi, Daddy.

Six-month-old Madison is also waiting for her dad to come home.

Michelle Williams is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. Because of that, she has been unable to talk to the media, under military restrictions, so as to not endanger her husband's care in the care of the Iraqis that were holding him.

But now she's free to tell me that she is relieved and overjoyed. She is looking forward to seeing her husband. She has been making videos of the children over the last couple of days. She will take those with her, though she doesn't know exactly when she'll leave to go see David, or when he'll be returning to Killeen.

But a very happy day. And she says the prayers and support of everyone, both in Killeen and across America, have touched her heart, and also helped give her the strength to get through this very difficult time.

And I want to show you behind me, a permanent installation right in front of the home of both - a statute, a monument, so to speak - and a flag, a POW flag, that has been raised in front of the house along with yellow ribbons.

And on that stone plaque in front of the house, it says, quote, Anderson, so look up ahead at times to come. Despair is not for us.

And surely, here in Killeen, Texas tonight for Michelle Williams, her children and her family, no more despair, just incredible relief and joy - Anderson.

COOPER: Understandable. And, Jamie, thanks very much.

No more despair in Virginia Beach, as well. That is where we go next to, I guess, very happy about Chief Williams's safe return.

Pamela and Barry Thackery - sorry - Pamela and Barry Thacker, his mother and his stepfather, live in Virginia Beach. Thanks so much for being with us on what has just got to be an extraordinary for you both.

What went through your mind when you heard the news?

PAMELA THACKER, MOTHER OF RESCUED POW: Oh, just joy. I just - absolute joy.

COOPER: Barry, what have the last two weeks or more been like for both of you?

BARRY THACKER, STEPFATHER OF RESCUED POW: A very difficult time. We kept our hope up, very optimistic. Hardest thing I've ever had to endure. We made it through, and it was a tough time.

COOPER: And, Pamela, how do you make it through? I mean, every day has got to bring with it its own set of doubts and fears and, I guess, hopes raised and then hopes dashed.

P. THACKER: That's for sure. I think prayer and support from family and friends. I mean, we leaned on them so hard, our family and friends. And we had a lot of support.

COOPER: Well, have you been able to talk to David yet?

P. THACKER: No, not at this time I haven't.

COOPER: You've heard, I take it, from his wife. And she said he sounds good?

P. THACKER: Yes. I spoke with her this afternoon. And she assures me that he's sounding in an up spirit, and that he's going to be OK.

COOPER: Barry, what kind of guy is David?

B. THACKER: He's very sharp. I'm very impressed with him. I'm very proud of him, and have really been able to spend some time with him, to get to know him and really like him.

COOPER: Those pictures that I'm sure you saw today of him smiling, running on to that bus. And then - almost welling up. Pamela, as you saw those pictures, what went through your mind?

P. THACKER: That he's OK. I mean, for the last few weeks, our concern was his well-being. And just seeing him and him being mobile, I mean, that's a blessing, a true blessing.

COOPER: When he comes home, what do you want to tell him.

P. THACKER: That everything's OK. I know his concern was for his family here while he's being held captive, and that it's OK. It's just wonderful.

COOPER: Barry, your final thoughts. What do you plan on telling him?

B. THACKER: I will tell him I'm proud of him and I'm glad that he's home.

COOPER: As are we all. Pamela and Barry Thacker, appreciate you joining us on this momentous day for you and your family. I appreciate you taking the time. Thanks.

P. THACKER: Thank you.

COOPER: Let's go to Wolf now in Qatar.

BLITZER: Oh, yes, that is much, as well, thanks very much. Anderson, when we return, we'll check out some other stories making news right now, also.

What the newly released POWs and their families are likely to face now that the POWs have been freed when this special report from CNN continues. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Today's surprising turn of events began early. U.S. Marines entered Sulaymaniyah ready to clear traffic for the push to Tikrit, but a tip from an Iraqi police officer led to an unexpected discovery, seven American POWs.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

The seven were whisked aboard an Army helicopter to a U.S.base near Baghdad. They were then put on a transport plan headed for Kuwait and medical care. These video images gave family and friends their first glimpse and the newly freed troops, and family gatherings quickly turned into an outpouring of joy and relief. More celebrations after reality sinks in. And official word from the U. S. Military, the former POWs are safe and sound.

Now, in Kuwait, one family has learned they could be back in the U. S. by Tuesday.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Anderson, before the break, we told you about Chief David Williams, one of the rescued POWs. Together with another pilot, he was flying that Apache helicopter on March 24 when it went down in Iraq.

Susan Candiotti has been with the family. She is joining us now live from Lithia Springs, Georgia. Susan, tell us how excited the people there are.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, well, as you can imagine, Wolf, they are thrilled. As you know, it was television that first sent the Ronald Young family reeling because, it was through television, they learned that their son was being held as a POW. But at the time, they said, it did give them a measure of hope, at least, that he was alive.

And now television is bringing them unbridled joy, showing them pictures of their son being released, free, and in the hands of the Marines.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (voice over): Ronald Young's parents knew their son was free when they saw his picture don TV. Then the Army came to the door.

UNIDENTIFIED ARMY REPRESENTATIVE: Sir, on behalf of the secretary of the Army, I want you to know that your son has been (UNINTELLIGIBLE). R. YOUNG: I appreciate it!

CANDIOTTI: For three weeks, Ronald Young had been a prisoner somewhere inside Iraq. His mother could not believe how well he looked.

K. YOUNG: He looked good. I couldn't believe he was running. He had the beg grin.

R. YOUNG: Look where he's at. I would be running, too.

CANDIOTTI: Young and fellow pilot, David Williams, were captured after their helicopter went down. Both were shown on TV.

What will his father tell him when he gets back?

R. YOUNG: I am so proud of you, and I love you better than anything in the world, but don't scare me like that anymore.

CANDIOTTI: Finally, a call from Ron in Kuwait.

K. YOUNG: Hey, Ron. Everybody's here. I know it. How are you? Well, we are just having a party for you. Why aren't you here?

CANDIOTTI: The call lasted five minutes.

K. YOUNG: I can't wait to hold you. When I see you, we are just going to sit and hug for about 30 minutes.

CANDIOTTI: When Ron Young's father began talking, his mother's emotions took hold.

Young said he lot weight, at least 20 pounds, as a POW, but didn't reveal much more about his captivity.

K. YOUNG: I asked him how he was treated, and he said that he was treated well the last two or three days. They met up with some people that treated them good. He said, in the beginning, it wasn't too great.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Nervous laughter, of course, but the family had been asked by the Army not to go into that kind of detail with their son during that brief phone call. All they are looking forward to now is reuniting with their son, Ronald Young, in Washington before the week is out.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A warm and welcome reunion, I am sure. Susan Candiotti in Lithia Springs, Georgia.

Today's news, of course, answers the prayers of so many at Fort Bliss, Texas. That is the home base of the 507th Maintenance Company of the U. S. Army. It is also where Colonel Fred Hudson is the chaplain. Colonel, thanks so much for joining us.

COL. FRED HUDSON, FORT BLISS CHAPLAIN: I guess a lot of people at Fort Bliss were either going to or at church or just after church when they heard the news -- the good news about the 507th Maintenance Company POWs. How excited were they?

Well, Wolf, they were very excited. It's just wonderful news. The extreme of emotions hard to put into words. In fact, I told the congregation this morning they did not have to listen to me preach. My sermon title was not appropriate for the rejoicing of the hour.

This installation has been experiencing what the Lord says, that weeping may endear for the night, but joy comes in the morning. And this morning, unlike three weeks ago -- this morning, three weeks ago -- we received the first word of casualties. Then this morning, on Palm Sunday, we had this wonderful news today.

Of course, our hearts continue to grieve with the families who have lost their loved ones. Our memorial ceremony on Friday, and all of us have continued to grieve with them. And then this news this morning -- it's just -- we all want to pinch ourselves to make sure we are not dreaming. It's just wonderful news.

BLITZER: Colonel, how do you walk through that delicate line in the three weeks that you knew they were POWs? You didn't know if there would be a happy ending or a sad ending. On the one hand, you don't want to raise expectations. On the other hand, you want these families, these loved ones, to keep on hoping. What kind of strategy do have to use during the most sensitive moments like these?

HUDSON: Well, initially, we saw the pictures of the POWs, so we knew that they were alive. And then when the success was just so phenomenal into Baghdad, and the regime began to crumble, we all began to realize some fears and concerns about the safety of the POWs. And then when reports came out that some uniforms had been found, in a very pessimistic mood, I will have to confess, especially after Friday, I was personally concerned that we would be doing memorial ceremonies for five more of our soldiers, just like we did on Friday, but we thank the Lord that that's not true.

And so, initially, to walk that thin line is to be able to say to the families we saw their face, we know that they were alive, we have good reason to continue to believe that they are alive, and the way it has turned out today is just a wonderful miracle.

BLITZER: Colonel Hudson, by all accounts, they seem to be in pretty good physical shape, all of them, not only the five from the 507th, but the two Apache helicopter pilots as well. But we don't know what kind of emotional roller coaster they have gone through over these past three weeks. What kind of counseling do you think they are going to need in the immediate period ahead.

HUDSON: It could be a pretty broad spectrum of help, depending on what they went through. Obviously, there are going to be feelings about their survival compared to those who were killed in action. We all know that those great soldiers who died, as volunteers leaning forward in the foxholes, paid the price that made this success thus far so obvious. And the soldiers that were POWs also paid a price.

And so, what kind of counseling will they need? It will depend on what happened to them in their status as POWs, what they went through at that time.

BLITZER: I think the best counseling that they are going to get is the love, the love that they will feel, not only from their families, but also from everyone else who were so touched by what they went through. Colonel Fred Hudson, the Chaplain at Fort Bliss in Texas. That's the home of the 507th Maintenance Company. Five of the seven soldiers based their.

Thanks very much, Colonel, for joining us.

Let me send it back to Anderson now in the CNN news room in Atlanta. Anderson?

COOPER: Wolf, coming up, we are going to have more reaction to the rescue of the seven Americans from their extended family, from their fellow soldiers.

And the impact of what freed prisoners and their families went through and what may be ahead. We will hear from one woman who has already been there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): ... mates from First Attack Helicopter Battalion share the news that two of their own have been found. The Apache helicopter pilots, Dave Williams and Ron Young, are free.

CWO MATT MCELROY, HELICOPTER PILOT: I think we have been on an emotional roller coaster. I mean, we have been -- ever since we heard that they captured some POWs, they got our POWs back. As soon as it was confirmed that it was Ron and Dave -- we got Ron and Dave back, and they're healthy, I'll tell you, I don't think there was a dry eye in there, in the tent.

PENHAUL: Williams' and Young's aircraft was shot down early March 24th in the first battle of the war against Iraqi Republican Guard forces around the cities of Karbala and al Hillah.

McElroy and fellow pilot, Fred Polidore whirled overhead and tried to save them. The heavy fire blasted their aircraft, too, forcing them to turn back to base.

Iraqi TV broadcast pictures of the downed Apache. Young and Williams, who is a specialist in survival (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went on the run for more than 24 hours. But eventually, Iraqi forces captured them.

In the last few days, comrades from Charlie Company, nicknamed "The Vampires", donned the surviving helicopters with the somber POW/MIA symbols. Today, the mood much lighter.

They will only be reunited with Young and Williams back at base in Fort Hood, Texas, but they sent them this message:

CWO FRED POLIDORE, HELICOPTER PILOT: We love you. We have been praying for you, we knew this day would come. And everybody is just really, really excited. The battalion, the Vampires -- it's a big relief. Big, big relief.

PENHAUL: Reconnaissance and security missions are continuing for the time being, but now that friends are safe, these Apache pilots feel their war is over. For the first time since the day Young and Williams were captured, they don't mind showing their emotions.

MCELROY: As long as they're here, we probably won't quit hugging them until...

POLIDORE: Yes, hugging.

MCELROY: We are probably going to have to give them a big kiss..

POLIDORE: Yes, yes. We are going to hug them for sure.

PENHAUL: Karl Penhaul for CNN in central Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, Marine Colonel Cliff Acree was taken prisoner on the second day of the first Gulf War back in 1991. The Iraqis tortured him, and his wife went through a different kind of torture, not knowing his fate. After her husband's release, Cynthia Acree wrote, "The Gulf Between Us, Love and Terror in Desert Storm". She joins us live from Pensacola, Florida, to offer some insight on what the POWs and their families have faced and still face.

Cynthia, thanks for being with us.

CYNTHIA ACREE, AUTHOR AND WIFE OF FORMER POW: You're welcome.

COOPER: Do the families realize what is ahead of them?

ACREE: I think, right now, the families are in a state of euphoria. It's as if their loved ones have come back from the dead. This was the moment that they had dreamed of and, really, didn't dare believe that it would come true.

The POWs, regardless of the treatment they have had or how long they have been in captivity -- all POWs from all wars across all time go through various stages, and it's a major trauma for them. They have really been through a near death experience.

COOPER: You say they go through various stages, regardless of their treatment. What are some of the stages?

ACREE: Well, the first one, obviously, is a state of complete shock, where suddenly they are totally out of control. They are overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness, and they have an overwhelming fear of death.

After they go through that stage, then they start worrying about their families and feeling concern for them. In face, I have talked to a number of POWs from different wars, and they all told me that they felt their families had in worse, in many ways, than they did because at least they knew where they were, and they knew if they were alive and how they were being treated. But the families are back there just waiting, and they have no idea what condition they are in.

COOPER: When your husband was released and you found that call -- I mean, obviously, an emotional day just like it's been for all these families -- what didn't you realize then?

ACREE: I didn't realize that the happy ending did not come on the tarmac when he stepped off the airplane, and we were finally allowed to embrace. After the reunion, there are a lot of hills to climb. They have been through a trauma. The families have been their own trauma. Both parties have made tremendous sacrifices, and they will find that their loved ones who have been prisoners of war will be different in many ways.

Everyone handles it differently, but there will be some commonalities in what they will experience. Right now, they are just adjusting to the sense of freedom, and even that is difficult. They are not used to it.

COOPER: And your advice to family members?

ACREE: To take it slow with them, to realize that they may have some funny little quirks that they have picked up. With my husband, he exhibited some hording behavior. He had been in captivity for about seven weeks and was starving, and when he got on the hospital ship, Mercy, and they gave him a disposable toothbrush, he didn't want to let it go.

And also, I'd like to tell the American public to also be patient with them because these seven POWs, along with PFC Jessica Lynch, will become icons of this war and, as such, everyone will want to hear from them and interview them. And they will be thrust into the spot light at a time when they may be needing to heal.

And they will have many demands on their time at a time when they really need to be with their families. And as the colonel mentioned earlier, have that be part of their healing.

COOPER: Yes, I read an account that, apparently, NBC Entertainment is already making a TV movie of the week about Private First Class Jessica Lynch and saying they are going to do it whether or not she sells the rights to her story . So, I imagine we are going to be hearing a lot of that kind of stuff.

ACREE: Yes. We need to realize that these people and their families have made a tremendous sacrifice for our country, and now it's time for them to take some time for themselves and to heal and to come back to life. COOPER: Well, let's hope the country and, in particular, the media will give them that privacy and that time. Cynthia Acree, I appreciate your joining us. It was really interesting to talk to you. Very good.

ACREE: You're welcome. Thank you.

COOPER: Well, amid today's joy over the rescue of seven POWs, one thing cannot be forgotten. Six U. S. troops are still listed as missing in action. A look at that when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, it was, of course, hard not to be uplifted by the news that seven American POWs had been rescued. All them physically, it seems, it relatively good shape. They will, of course, soon return home.

But we think it important to note that for some families, the pain of missing loved ones continues. A handful of U. S. troops is still missing in action in Iraq. President Bush reminded reporters of that today, and we thought it important to make not of it.

There are six Americans lists as missing in action right now, five of them U. S. Marines, and tonight we remember them all. They include Private Jonathan L. Gifford of Decatur, Illinois; Private Nolen R. Hutchings of Boiling Springs, South Caroline; Lance Corporal Donald J. Cline of Sparks, Nevada, Private First Class Tamario Burkett of Buffalo, New York; and Corporal Kemaphoom Chanawongse of Waterford, Connecticut. One soldier is also listed as missing in action, Sergeant Edward Anguiano of Brownsville, Texas.

BLITZER: That's all the time we have for this special report. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Doha, Qatar. Good night, Anderson.

COOPER: Good night. I'm Anderson Cooper in Atlanta. I hope you join me at 10:00 for News Night.

We leave you now with another look at the joy of seven families united by a common bond, their loved ones once held prisoners now safe, sound and soon to be on their way home.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

KEN KRUEGER, JOHNSON FAMILY FRIEND: I am overwhelmed with joy and happiness for the family, for Shoshana, knowing that her and the other POWs are coming home safe and sound.

PAMELA THACKER, MOTHER OF DAVID WILLIAMS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE ) looks so good. He looks so good, and through the weeks, you know, you think are they feeding them, are they -- you know, is he getting rest, you know, is he scared, you know, and he looks good. He looks good. I am so thrilled.

ANECITA HUDSON, MOTHER OF JOSEPH HUDSON: I'm really excited and happy, and I really don't know how to express, and I am so glad Sergeant (UNINTELLIGIBLE) came and told me the really good news that (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

JOEL HERNANDEZ, BOTHER OF EDGAR HERNANDEZ: Man, I'm just so happy, dude. I just -- I knew this was going to happen, you know, they are going to find my brother and all the other prisoners.

JANE RILEY, MOTHER OF JAMES RILEY: I am happy, but I still can't believe it. When I touch him, I'll know it's real.

RILEY (on the telephone): OK, well, we are happy you're free, and we hope to see you soon, and you know that we love you, and we miss you.

JOHNNY MILLER, FATHER OF PATRICK MILLER: If he wants to continue his military career, I'm 100 percent behind him. If he goes to another war, though, I'll be a nervous wreck.

KIM MILLER, SISTER OF PATRICK MILLER: Well, I think I was anxious. I really didn't know what to think. I was just happy my brother was coming home.

R. YOUNG: For us, you know, our son being back home, that's the greatest thing in the world. This is -- nobody could ever give me a greater gift than this. I just can't -- I felt so up today. I think it made me feel back to the time when he born, I believe, you know.

K. YOUNG: Ron has this smile that just -- it's from ear to ear, and you could just see it. And we were just so excited. That's all I can think of is excited, but we want to thank those people who went in after him and the Marines, whoever was involved, the Iraqis who took good care of them. He looked thin, but he looked good.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(NEWSBREAK)

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