CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Former POWs Come Home
Aired April 19, 2003 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: In Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas, tonight they're almost home, the seven former POWs due home in Texas in the next few minutes to see their families for the first time after being held captive in Iraq for nearly three weeks.
We're live in Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas with all the excitement and emotion, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We're told that the arrival time at Fort Bliss is 6:15 Pacific and that is about 14 minutes from now. So, let's introduce our guests in the first segment. At Fort Bliss, Colonel Ben Hobson, the United States Army, he's Fort Bliss' chief of staff and Ed Lavandera, CNN's reporter who's standing by to keep us on the line with reports.
We'll start with Colonel Hobson. What are the preparations you had to go through today, Colonel?
COL. BEN HOBSON, U.S. ARMY, FT. BLISS CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, we're just trying to do everything we can to take care of these families, get them here, get them integrated, escorted, and set up for what we hope to be a wonderful event in El Paso to welcome these brave soldiers home.
KING: And then the other soldiers who are at Fort Hood, they will go on from Bliss to Hood?
HOBSON: Absolutely. As soon as we finish here, there's an aircraft already on the ground that will transport the two pilots to Fort Hood so that they can have their reunion at their great installation.
KING: How far away is that?
HOBSON: It might take them a couple hours by air time to get there.
KING: Now, what's planned when the plane comes in? Will the families go onto the plane or will they wait until the soldiers disembark?
HOBSON: Larry, this is the first stop in the Continental United States, so we'll clear customs and the agriculture. We'll go on a short briefing to them. Once that's done the soldiers then will come down a ramp similar to what you saw when they loaded on at Ramstein. They'll come down and the families will be escorted out there to meet them at that location as they come off the plane. KING: You mean they have to clear customs like anybody else?
HOBSON: Just like anybody else.
KING: And they go -- they're going to be asked if they're carrying any fruits and vegetables?
HOBSON: Well, they'll be asked that but we think everything is under control at this end, Larry.
KING: Ed Lavandera, what's the scene like there?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, across the way of the tarmac here there are several hundred people who have shown up. The base here invited the people of El Paso to come watch. We've seen a lot of family members, extended family members, of these former prisoners of war that have shown up to greet the soldiers as well so it's quite an amazing scene and just also a huge American flag that they've draped over.
And in just a few minutes, the sun is going to be dipping behind the mountains and behind that flag, and the colonel was just telling me a little while ago, he said it's going to be a beautiful scene to watch.
KING: How long, colonel, will the process be before we see them come down the ramp?
HOBSON: Larry, hopefully from the time the plane stops and they turn the engines off I'd say within about 20 minutes we ought to be, we ought to be seeing them come down the ramp.
KING: Now, Ed, your position, where are you in relation to where the plane will be?
LAVANDERA: We're about as close to the aircraft as we're going to be able to get at this point and you'll be able to get a very nice shot from behind the aircraft as these prisoners of war come out, former prisoners of war come out of the aircraft and are greeted by their family members. And, I think they're going to be driven by in a golf cart back over here to their families, so they'll be closer to the crowd on the other side as well.
KING: What's the weather like, colonel?
HOBSON: It's a beautiful, sunny day, a little breeze here in El Paso, but it's a typical El Paso day and we're proud to show off for these great soldiers, but we also don't want to forget those that are wounded and those that gave the ultimate sacrifice and this is dangerous business. We still have plenty of them over there that are doing our nation's business in this global war on terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
KING: Colonel, will the two that are going on to Fort Hood, will they come off the plane or will they just stay on?
HOBSON: They will briefly come off the plane because there's a separate plane here that will carry them on to Fort Hood.
KING: Oh, they switch aircraft then?
KING: Boy this is really something to be a part of, to know that this is impending. It's going to happen. What are they telling us, Ed? What time?
LAVANDERA: Well, they said as you mentioned off the top of the show about 7:15 local time. That time had actually been pushed up a little bit. There was some word earlier on that it might be around eight o'clock Mountain time but things seem to be moving a little bit quicker I think.
KING: I know that -- we know that President Bush is at the ranch this weekend. Is he planning to come there, do you know Colonel Hobson?
HOBSON: I have no idea but from the plans that we have he's observing a quiet Easter there and is observing from his ranch location.
KING: Ed, do you know anything?
LAVANDERA: Well, there is from what we understand President Bush will be attending or going to Fort Hood tomorrow for a meeting. I think probably Susan Candiotti will have more details on exactly what will be going on there tomorrow.
KING: And, colonel, how long will they be in base? How long will they be examined and the like and kept before they can go home?
HOBSON: Well, they will hopefully be out of here after a short reception inside and a medical screen. We're going to release them to their families if they, in fact, are released.
There is some concern that one of them may have to go to the hospital and spend the night but we'll check and see. We'll give them -- the plans are right now tomorrow off and then on Monday they'll start back with medical screening again.
KING: Which is the one that may have to stay overnight?
HOBSON: The one that's been put on the stretcher. We believe Shoshana Johnson may, but you know, I'll let the medical authorities make that determination.
KING: Thank you, Colonel Hobson. Ed, you stay with us.
We're going to take a break and come back and we'll bring aboard Susan Candiotti in Fort Hood, and Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr in Spokane and Colonel David Eberly in Richmond, Virginia, one with Air National Guard, one Air Force retired, both former prisoners of war.
We're going to watch all this take place right before your eyes and that will all happen right after these words.
KING: We're back. CNN's Ed Lavandera remains with us.
Joining us now from Fort Hood in Texas is CNN's Susan Candiotti.
In Richmond, Virginia, is Colonel David Eberly, United States Air Force retired. He was the most senior ranking U.S. prisoner of war during Gulf War I. He was held for 43 days, wrote a book called "Faith Beyond Belief."
And, in Spokane, Washington, Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr, of the Washington Air National Guard, he was a prisoner of war in Gulf War I. He was held for 33 days.
Just to refresh your memories, all these persons coming home were members of the so-called Lost Patrol. This was a lightly-guarded convoy of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company that wandered into an ambush in Nasiriya on March 23. The first Sunday of the war, nine soldiers were killed and six captured. The sixth was PFC Jessica Lynch who was rescued in a separate mission.
What, Susan, is the scene at Fort Hood?
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Larry, they have quite a ceremony planned for here just as they do at Fort Bliss. You can feel a lot of excitement in the air now.
Clearly, you see the work going on behind me as they put the finishing touches on that podium. They've got the media set up on a big dais here. You can see everyone just rushing for their positions.
And, back down here, we are told that roughly around, give or take a few minutes or possibly as much as an hour, around midnight tonight Eastern time, is when they expect a small plane to arrive here carrying the two former POWs, pilots David Williams and Ronald Young coming in from Fort Bliss.
That flight takes about just about an hour and a half. When their plane lands, it will be taxiing over to a terminal and then they'll be given literally the red carpet treatment, walking over here, crossing just through. They will pass through a sea of soldiers. We are told as many as 600 or 700 soldiers in this audience, including those from their aviation brigade that they are a part of.
And then, literally we should see the crowds part. Their family will come down from the podium and the two will meet sort of halfway there. As you can imagine, what that's going to be like.
CANDIOTTI: I traveled with the Young family here today from Lithia Springs, Georgia. They flew in nine members of that family, including parents, brothers and sisters. And, David Williams will be met by is family, including his wife, two children, and his father at the very least.
So, it should be quite a ceremony. And it's been quite an ordeal for both of these families starting back on March 23, of course. Today they had an opportunity to see the two pilots when they were leaving Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany this day. The two pilots, in fact, one of them waving the American flag.
For this family they first got news on March 23 that they were missing in action. Then they learned that they were prisoners of war. Then they learned just a week ago Sunday, just last week, that they had been rescued by the Marines, and now it has come to this, and all of that waiting has been very difficult.
When the Young family arrived this day, I asked Ronald Young's parents what the hardest part of all that waiting was like.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The worst one was the last week because, you know, there wasn't a whole lot of information about POWs then. They were talking about Jessica Lynch and they said well the regime is collapsing. They had nobody to negotiate with. We were really worried at that point.
KAY YOUNG, MOTHER OF FORMER POW: He means the last week before they were found.
CANDIOTTI: That's right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's exactly what we're talking about.
K. YOUNG: And it was.
CANDIOTTI: And now that it's just a few hours away, Kay, what's going through your head?
K. YOUNG: Nothing really. I'm just going to be glad to see him. I'm just excited.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know he's safe now so it's not a situation that, you know, you got to sit on the edge of the seat anymore. We're just waiting to see him, so we can, you know, enjoy being around him again.
CANDIOTTI: And, Larry, we can tell you that tomorrow morning, Sunday morning President Bush is going to be flying here to Fort Hood. He will be attending Easter services with the troops; however, it is unclear at this time whether he will be meeting the two pilots. We'll see, back to you.
KING: Thank you Susan Candiotti. You hang with us throughout the hour. And, Ed Lavandera, as soon as that plane starts coming in, you will take over the description of it.
Let's go to Richmond and talk to Colonel David Eberly. How did you come home, colonel?
COL. DAVID EBERLY, USAF (RET): Well, Larry, good evening. Let me just say that it's another great day to be an American and at the same time what a blessing for these families as we enter this Easter weekend.
You know I might also, just if you'll let me, add that in the next few moments when these brave soldiers step off the airplane we need to remember that for others the loss of a spouse or son or daughter or mom or dad serves as a painful reminder of the reality of war.
And so, certainly we want to say a prayer when they step off but we also want to remember that there are families out there, your viewers, who will never experience this moment and we want to just pause and say a prayer for them.
To your specific question, I know Dale will join me in saying that our arrival at Andrews some 12 years ago on Sunday, March the 10th, was something that we never expected in our lives. It was beyond all expectation and very humbling experience for us.
KING: Colonel Storr in Spokane, what would you add, that day, what was it like for you?
LT. COL. DALE STORR, FORMER POW: Oh, it's -- I look back on it, Larry, and it was pretty much the happiest day of my life. It still is. It was a little confusing, a little disorienting. I'd like to echo Colonel Eberly's words. We weren't expecting that kind of welcome home but, you know, it's something I'll never forget and I'm so grateful that they were able to provide that for us.
KING: Where, colonel, specifically were you held?
STORR: I was -- spent most of my time, most of the 33 days in Baghdad in the same prison for the most part with Colonel Eberly.
KING: And Colonel Eberly how were you treated?
EBERLY: Well, let me just remind the viewers of our position earlier on this and that is that we were not treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. Our treatment was harsh, at some times brutal, but that's all history now.
What we need to focus on today is certainly that we have survived, that we all came home, just as these seven have come home to join Private Lynch, and it's a wonderful day for America.
KING: What, Colonel Storr, kept you going?
STORR: Oh, a lot of things, Larry. You know my faith in God, my faith in my country, knowing that I was going to come home someday. I knew the United States wasn't going to let me just sit there and rot in that prison, and my belief in my family and friends and just a lot of things. The training I received at survival school instilled a self confidence, a will to survive that I will get through this and I will be coming home someday.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what did it for you?
EBERLY: Well, clearly, my faith in God, my faith in our country, the love of my family and friends, and knowing that every airmen, every soldier, every Marine, sailor, was out there continuing to fight and was going to bring us home just as they did with great honor.
KING: Ed Lavandera, what can you -- any report of where the plane is?
LAVANDERA: Well, you know, we're looking out here along the horizon and you can't make out anything yet. It's kind of confusing. The El Paso Airport is right next to the air base here, so every time I see a plane coming on the horizon it actually turns out to be a commercial jet, but still no word from here yet.
KING: Colonel Storr, what do you remember about being on the plane right before you landed?
STORR: Boy, there was a lot of excitement on the airplane. Everybody was talking. It was a tremendously exciting time. I remember looking out the windows and seeing the United States for the first time. That was a great feeling and once we landed and got on the tarmac, taxied up to the terminal there and saw that gigantic crowd waiting for us to come home, and seeing the American flag again for the first time, it was a pretty emotional time for I think all of us.
KING: Colonel Eberly, we're told these soldiers are going to have to clear customs. Did you clear customs?
EBERLY: Not that I remember. The plane just paused briefly at the end of the runway there at Andrews and then we came on in and I will certainly echo Dale's comments. I think my heart was going a mile a minute and when they opened that door, we took a big breath of fresh air and knew that certainly we were home and the cheers of the crowd was just overwhelming. It's an emotion that still gets to me today when I watch the videos of our coming home.
KING: Joining us now in Washington is Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, United States Army Medical Corps. She's program director for mental health policy and women's issues with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. She's an expert on prisoner of war post release health issues. Colonel, what's the number one problem a prisoner of war coming home faces?
LT. COL. ELSPETH CAMERON RITCHIE, ARMY PSYCHIATRIST: The number one problem that they face is what happened to them when they were a prisoner of war and in order to deal with that and to get on with their lives sometimes that can be difficult. Sometimes they've had some pretty bad treatment and they may have some psychological symptoms from that treatment.
Fortunately, we've learned a lot about how to take care of our prisoners of war. We've learned that from World War II and Korea and Vietnam and the first Gulf War. So now what we do is we bring them home gradually, not right away, and we give them a chance to get oriented again, to get fed and showered and slept, to have a chance to get ready to face the media and get ready to join their families.
KING: How long before you talk to them about what they went through?
RITCHIE: I don't know if I'll be talking to them but certainly the military medical system has a lot of psychologists, psychiatrists, and chaplains in place to help them adjust.
KING: I didn't mean you specifically. I mean how long before they are talked to about what happened to them?
RITCHIE: It's pretty quick. The first thing that happens is they get brought back to a medical facility and they get a medical exam and then pretty shortly after that they get a psychological evaluation. However, we wait until they're ready to talk about what happened before going into all the details.
KING: Would you back that up, Colonel Storr? Is that the way it happened with you?
STORR: Yes, I would. It's a slow process. I was never pushed or encouraged to talk about what I had gone through; however, the psychologists and the psychiatrists that I did work with were very helpful in helping me talk about it. So, it's not something that I was ever forced or felt obligated to tell; however, talking about it did help me a great deal.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what was it like for you?
EBERLY: I agree. We have a very good program. The United States has funded a program down at Pensacola Air Force Base under the Robert E. Mitchell Center for Prisoner of War Studies, and all the returning prisoners are part of that program.
It helps with an annual physical that looks at any physical problems you might have had. It also has a psychiatric department and each year we go down and discuss things that are going on in our lives, reflect on the past, and so it is a process that's ongoing.
Each of these returning prisoners looks great today. They will look tremendous as they step off the airplane with adrenalin rushing, but I think what we need to be aware of is when all the excitement calms down and when they are alone they get a brush of wind or a noise that triggers a remembrance of the time that they've spent in solitary confinement or at the other end of a gun with a threat. That's the time that they may never recover from but it's a time that we need to work through very gradually with each one of them.
KING: Colonel Ritchie what are they told about dealing with the media?
RITCHIE: They're told that they're in control of their lives and that they're the ones that need to tell the media when they can be interviewed. One of the problems about being a POW is you lose control over your life. You're often in a very helpless situation.
And so, when you come back, in the beginning POWs may stay helpless but then they want to become more independent. So, it really should be their choice and that's not just the media. That's also for ceremonies welcoming them home, family events. It's all very exciting but they need to be the ones who call the shots about when and where it will happen.
I'd like to also add to Colonel Eberly's comments about the long term reactions to being a POW. That's certainly something that we take into account and part of the decompression process is that we'll educate the POWs that these symptoms may happen and we'll work with them for a long period of time, not just in the days and weeks after they get back but over the long haul to make sure that if they do have these long-term reactions, which some people call post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, that we'll be there to help them out and we've learned a lot about how to treat PTSD.
KING: If you've just joined us, we were told earlier that the plane bringing these soldiers home was due at 6:15 Pacific time, 9:15 Eastern time, 7:15 at Fort Bliss in Texas and it is now 22 and a half minutes past the hour, so the plane is not due on arrival time at 6:15. We are keeping you posted.
Ed Lavandera is on the scene. Susan Candiotti is in Fort Hood. She's already told us that that plane carrying the two prisoners who were not stationed at Fort Bliss that will go on to Fort Hood will be getting there about midnight Eastern time in Fort Hood. It's about an hour and a half to two hour flight from Fort Bliss to Fort Hood.
Colonel Storr, what was the number one problem you faced coming home?
STORR: Well, I think my biggest problem actually was an intestinal parasite that I picked up in Baghdad, giardia. It lasted with me for several years. Then the nightmares, I think we all have the nightmares when we first get back. I'd had them almost every single night for the first few months while I was home. They finally taper off; however, when our guys were captured again, I almost had them -- they were a nightly occurrence while I was...
STORR: ...over in prison. Yes, I'm glad we got them home because as soon as I heard those guys were free again, the nightmares faded.
KING: You mean when this happened 12 years later you had a recurrence?
STORR: Oh, yes. Yes, when I heard our guys were captured I was having nightmares every single night, extreme nightmares, bad ones like I had when I first got back from prison. I'd wake up in the middle of the night almost screaming.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what was it like for you?
EBERLY: Well, I agree with Dale. On March 23 when we found out that these seven were -- actually that they were missing and then I think it was a week ago Wednesday when we heard the name Al Rasheed, we all spent time at Al Rasheed, and I would have to say in comparison to the other four -- to the four prisons we were in, Al Rasheed was probably the least inhumane.
But what that does is it puts you right back in the cell when somebody says Iraqi Intelligence Service Headquarters, you immediately remember what the inside of that cell was like and what the voices were like in the hallway, what the threats were like.
And I think Dale may remember the individual that we called the Madman, who about I think it was March 20 the cries started wailing down the hallway and that's when the guards lost their patience, began to brutally beat this poor man, actually chained him to my cell door.
And so, all of those things start to come back in your mind, but you know once again I think we need to focus on the future here. We have survived that and we need to help these seven, plus Private Lynch, and certainly the others that we hope will be brought out of there, focus on their future and adjust.
KING: Colonel Ritchie, does it surprise you that Colonel Eberly and Colonel Storr both experienced a recapturing of events of 12 years ago when these prisoners were taken?
RITCHIE: No, it does not, but I think it's a really important point to bring up and I'm glad you did because there's probably a lot of other former POWs as well as combat veterans out there that are re- experiencing some of their symptoms and they should know that this is common and does not mean you're going crazy but they should also mean that if it continues to be a problem that there are people again who are experienced with how to treat that.
KING: Colonel Ritchie, do you know why it occurs?
RITCHIE: There's lot of long scientific explanations but let me give you a brief one. At the time that this happened, people's just anxiety was normally sky high. It was like their brain was in overload, and then (unintelligible) probably, I don't know about these gentlemen, but it's probably been a much quieter period.
And then the triggers have re-stirred up those memories, re- stirred up the brain overload and some people think of dreams as a way that the mind tries to process it, tries to deal with it.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what do you recommend for the family members to handle this? Is it just the obvious, just be happy and joyous, or is there any special tips you'd give them?
EBERLY: Well, I would ask not only the family members but people in the community, even the media, Larry, to give the folks some space. You know, they're going to be so thankful to be home and they're going to feel as though they need to go to each potluck supper.
They need to sit down with each group and talk about their experience. They need to go to every parade and every interview that they can and some of that is very good to talk through it. People will have great interest in what they have to say.
At the same time, we need to realize that they've been boxed up, literally boxed up maybe for 21 days and we have no idea what horrors they faced in that solitary confinement. And so, give them a chance to work through it and I think the big thing that many of them want to do is get back on the job.
I know in my case I couldn't wait to fly again. I wanted to get back into the position that I'd been selected for as the commander of a group and so that was very much on my mind to get back in the air and do the job.
KING: Colonel Storr, what was it like? How would you relate to what Colonel Eberly just said?
STORR: I agree with Colonel Eberly. I think he's got some great advice for the POWs and, yes, I also agree with him. I couldn't wait to get back in the airplane. I was forced to take 30 days of convalescent leave.
I had dropped 35 pounds while I was in prison, so I had to put some weight back on before I could fly, but I spent those 30 days in Spokane, healed up, put some weight back on, and I got back to my squadron on a Sunday, and Wednesday I was flying the A-10 again. That's a great therapy right there.
KING: Colonel Eberly, prisoners of war treated as heroes when they return, do you feel heroic?
EBERLY: No, Larry. It's...
KING: You don't?
EBERLY: No. You're out there doing a job. I mean we're all volunteers. You suit up. You go forth. You look forward to the opportunity to be involved in an action like this and serve your country. And so, when you come back it's just overwhelming.
I mentioned, I'll mention again that the emotion that went through me when I took -- when I came out of that door and saluted the flag, came down the steps, Barbara and I had agreed that I would not try to find her in the crowd because I had some things that I wanted to say following then Secretary Cheney at the microphone.
And it's just another way of serving is the best way to say it. You may be serving as a prisoner of war but you're still serving our God-blessed country.
KING: Do you feel heroic, Colonel Storr?
STORR: No, no, not really. Just like Colonel Eberly said, we were all out there doing a job. We all signed our name on the dotted line and took the exact same oath. I was flying my A-10 with all the other guys in my squadron and I just happened to take that round and found myself in prison.
I have a lot of respect for the 178 other men and women in Desert Storm, the first one, who gave their life so I could come home. Those are the real heroes, the guys who kept strapping the airplane on every day and fighting the ground war. Those are the real heroes in my eyes. They're the guys that got me home.
KING: Ed Lavandera, any update on where the plane is?
LAVANDERA: Well, Larry, we're looking out toward the northwest part of the base here and we think we might be seeing the C-17 transport jet coming into focus. So, give us a couple of seconds here and we'll be able to give you a more definitive answer.
KING: We see something on camera now. Is that what you're telling us? Are you seeing a monitor?
LAVANDERA: Yes, that's what we're looking at right now. That's our photographer's shot from the vantage point that I'm at here.
KING: And are they telling us that's the C-17?
LAVANDERA: They're not telling us much from the point that we're at right now. In fact, the spokespeople here for the base are on the other side tending to the families as well. But the crowd across the tarmac here is starting to cheer very loudly. The band has been warming up and entertaining the crowd as well, so perhaps this might be it.
A lot of the other planes that we've seen approaching this part of El Paso have come in from another direction and I see a lot of soldiers starting to wave at the aircraft that you're seeing coming in. So, I'm going to go out on the limb here, Larry, and say that this could very well be the C-17. There's a better picture.
KING: That tower is the tower of the El Paso Airport?
LAVANDERA: That might, I think the tower you might be looking at there, Larry, is the tower here on base, very close to the airport but I think that's the one here on base.
KING: OK if this plane is coming into the base it's it, right?
LAVANDERA: It should -- it looks like it would be it. It might take a little while to taxi in over to the area that we're at. We're at what is known as the deployment center here on base.
In fact, one note, this is the very location where the soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company deployed from back in February. This is the last part of this base that they saw and this is where they'll be getting off this plane and greeting their families and friends here at this base in just a little while.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what was it like looking out that window?
EBERLY: Well, Larry, let me just first say from what I see on the monitor that's your C-17 and from our perspective inside, you know, it was great. It was coming home and nothing could be finer.
KING: What do you remember, Colonel Storr?
STORR: Well, I remember seeing Washington, D.C. as we flew into Andrews Air Force Base. It was a little cloudy that day but not too bad, landing on the tarmac and seeing that huge crowd of people.
Unlike Colonel Eberly, the first thing I did when I got on those air stairs was I started looking for my family and I was able to pick out my brother Dave who was in the Marine Corps at the time, who had been over in Desert Storm with me as an aviator.
I picked out his Marine Corps uniform in a heartbeat and, as soon as I saw that, I saw my brother Doug in his Air Force uniform. He was a C-17 pilot -- or a C-5 pilot at the time, and then I saw my mom, my sisters, my family and friends. It was the greatest feeling in their world, Larry. Like I said, it was the happiest day of the my life and still is the happiest day of my life.
KING: All right, Ed Lavandera, where is it now?
LAVANDERA: Well, it looks like it's very close now. It's in clear range. I would say probably about a half mile away from the runway and should be touching down here within the next minute or so. It's very close to the ground. We can see it from the vantage point that we're at without having to look through the camera lens as well. So, as I said a little while ago though...
KING: Yes, we've got a good shot of it.
LAVANDERA: Yes, it's a beautiful shot. The sun has just kind of crested behind the mountains on the western side here of El Paso, so a beautiful West Texas desert evening as this plane approaches. It's very windy. I don't know if the camera shot is able to pick that up, just how windy it is here in El Paso this evening. So, perhaps as these soldiers come in on this approach it might be a little more bumpier ride than they're used to getting.
KING: All right, on that plane is Specialist Edgar Hernandez of Mission, Texas; Specialist Joseph Hudson of Alamogordo, New Mexico; Private PFC Patrick Miller of Walter, Kansas; Sergeant James Rolly (ph) of Pennsauken, New Jersey; Specialist Shoshana Johnson of El Paso, Texas. The two others on the plane Ronald Young of Lithia Springs, Georgia, and David Williams of Orlando, Florida, they will go on to Fort Hood, Texas, where they are stationed.
Here is the C-17 landing with the seven soldiers who were prisoners of war in the Baghdad war coming in right now at El Paso, Texas. That is a very nice sight. Let's hope for a nice touchdown.
What's the crowd doing? Ed, what's the reaction there? LAVANDERA: Well, I was hoping, I was going to ask you, Larry, I hope you can hear just the enormous eruption of applause and cheering from across the tarmac. There are chants of "USA" breaking out in the crowd as well. You can see the top part of the aircraft there starting to make its way to this part of the tarmac.
A very emotional crowd, we know there's a lot of family members of not only the 507th soldiers that are on this plane, but also you have to remember there are about 80 soldiers from the 507th that are still overseas, still working. They weren't able to come home on this ride home so a lot of spouses from those soldiers that are still overseas coming here to celebrate with these families here this evening.
And, you know, this is a unit that left Fort Bliss never imagining that they would become a household name, if you will. You know their motto of the 507 is "just fix it" a testament to how they just like to be low-key people helping out the soldiers on the front lines.
And so, when these soldiers left here, this base, many of the families I've spoken with said they could never have imagined that the soldiers from this unit would have become so well known over the last three or four weeks.
KING: And if you joined us late, Colonel Ben Hobson, the Fort Bliss Chief of Staff told us earlier they will not be coming off the plane immediately. The plane will be boarded. They will oddly enough clear customs, which seems weird to me, checked if they have any food or agriculture onboard or agriculture items.
And, then (unintelligible) he said probably it would take about 20 minutes before they disembark. And, Ronald Young and David Williams, who are going on to Fort Hood will change planes and get on another plane.
Now where, is it coming toward, near you now? What can you tell us, Ed?
LAVANDERA: Yes, it is, Larry. It's about half a mile away. It's going rather -- moving rather slowly, navigating its way through the passageways here on this base, but it looks like it has one more right-hand -- left-hand -- right-hand turn to make and then it will be coming straight into this tarmac area and then when, I imagine, you will hear an even louder eruption from the crowd here as they welcome them home. And, I think the soldiers for the first time will be able to get a good look and a view of just how many people have turned out here to welcome them home.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what can you tell us about this aircraft?
EBERLY: Well, let me just comment on the scene that we're looking at in the insert there. You know it reminds me of a comment that says that whether you're headed north in the black of night carrying a rifle or whatever you're doing over there in a combat zone, going to war is a team effort. And I think we can see that in the faces of everybody waving a flag there at Fort Bliss. That's part of the team. They all went to war together just as people from classrooms to boardrooms across this country. This country doesn't go to war just in a uniform. It goes to war as a country and I think we can see that right there in the insert today.
KING: Now what about the aircraft itself?
EBERLY: Well, the C-17 is one of the newer transport airplanes. It can carry tanks. It can carry a lot of soldiers, a lot of equipment, and it's state of the art. It's the best transport plane we have today.
KING: Colonel Storr, you ever been on one?
STORR: Just on the ground, Larry. My brother Doug is still in the Air Force and he's actually flying C-17s now out of McCrory (ph) Air Force Base. I would really hope that that would be Doug flying that airplane today but I don't think it is.
KING: Obviously, they have long range, right Colonel Eberly?
EBERLY: Yes, they do. I guess they came home nonstop and they have refueling capabilities so that airplane could stay up a long time.
KING: Colonel Ritchie, what do you think is best suited for these people? This is a very tense and exciting moment, isn't it, and obviously a lot of things are going through these people?
RITCHIE: It's an incredibly exciting moment. I would assume that they are elated and overjoyed.
I'd like to come back a little bit to what Colonel Eberly said, and remember that it's a team effort. There is a lot of folks over there in the Gulf right now who are still working and still risking their lives and when they come home I hope it will be to the same welcome.
KING: Ed Lavandera where is the plane now in relation to where all the family members and the people and the media are?
LAVANDERA: Larry, we're about, the plane is about 500 yards away, moving very slowly but it just finished making its last turn and it is now just a straight shot down into this tarmac area, and still moving very slowly but about 500 yards away.
KING: Any idea why so slow, because we're anxious?
LAVANDERA: It seems kind of like a difficult area to navigate as well and I also see that it's being escorted by several emergency vehicles as well. I would imagine that's probably just in the standard way an aircraft of this size maneuvers through this kind of area.
KING: Colonel Eberly is that sort of standard to be this slow?
EBERLY: Absolutely. You don't want anything to go wrong here and that airplane is probably at five miles an hour, maybe a little faster, and we've just waited so long. That's what makes it even slower.
KING: I know the tension builds. There's a great shot of the plane, obviously, the four-engine C-17. As the colonel told us one of the newer members of the equipment team of the United States Air Force. Ed, is that you?
LAVANDERA: Yes, I was just going to say you have a beautiful shot there. I think you can see this soldier. I can't tell who that is or who that might be but an American flag sticking out of the top there as they are making their way to the crowd and the crowd, I think, has just been able to see that for the first time, for the loud -- I wish I could make out who that was, Larry. I apologize.
KING: Colonel Eberly, help me with something. There are people on top of the airplane?
EBERLY: There's a way to go up and he's climbed a little ladder there and come out from the top of the cockpit.
KING: What's the purpose of an exit on top?
EBERLY: Probably for some sort of ground evacuation. Otherwise it may just be for a way for maintenance to get to the top of the airplane.
KING: Well there, that is some scene, isn't it? Ed Lavandera that is a very windy scene.
LAVANDERA: Oh, it's incredibly windy, Larry. You know what that kind of looks like it might be Joseph Hudson and Patrick Riley (ph) coming out of the top of the aircraft there. But it's still quite a distance away and as you can see the aircraft is arriving upon us and this crowd is erupting in excitement.
KING: We're told that that is Miller with the flag and Hudson waving. How do we know that? I'm asking my own control room, how do we know that? The control room recognized the people. I was just wondering because I didn't see any message come down but the control room recognized them and they've climbed up.
How many does that plane hold, Colonel Eberly?
EBERLY: I have no idea, Larry.
KING: It looks like it could hold a whole command troop.
EBERLY: Right now it's holding seven and that's all that counts.
KING: All right now, Ed, it's angling around to where?
LAVANDERA: Well, it's going to face straight toward the mountains there and what's going to happen is the soldiers are going to be walked out of the back of the aircraft. And, in just a short while, we understand that family members will be taken out to the aircraft so they will be able to greet their loved ones as they come right off.
KING: What is this like for you, Colonel Ritchie, to see this?
RITCHIE: It's just so incredibly exciting. I'm so proud of them.
KING: Well, a picture tells a thousand words, let's just watch this.
If you joined us late you're watching the seven returning POWs, two of them on top of the plane. Five will stay here at Fort Bliss. Two others will go on to Fort Hood where President Bush will be attending some services at Fort Hood tomorrow, Easter Sunday.
If you've also just joined us, Colonel David Eberly, United States Air Force retired, who was the most senior ranking U.S. POW during Gulf War I, he is with us. So is Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr, of the Washington Air National Guard. He was a prisoner of war as well and he was held for 33 days. Colonel Eberly was held for 43 days in the same prison.
Susan Candiotti is on the scene at Fort Hood and she'll be reporting later in the night when the two servicemen from this group go on to Fort Hood. Ed Lavandera is our reporter at the scene. We also heard earlier from Colonel Ben Hobson.
We have, of course, discontinued all commercials during this period and we're just waiting to see what happens. The landing steps are down now. We were told earlier by Colonel Hobson, Ed, that people will go up first. Is that the procedure? Ed, do we know?
LAVANDERA: I'm told that there will be some people that go talk to the soldiers before they come off but I'm seeing the front door open. We had been told that it would be through the back, so I don't know if things might be changing here as we speak. It's a little bit difficult to tell. All of the people who would know that are making their way to the aircraft right now.
KING: And where are the family members in proximity to what we're seeing?
LAVANDERA: Actually, if you look straight back away from where the aircraft is, all the family members are back to where the crowd is. It's probably about 100 yards away.
KING: Colonel Eberly, what's going through your mind?
EBERLY: I'll tell you, I'm just reliving those events and I can't wait to see that first one come off. It's a wonderful time.
KING: Colonel Storr. STORR: Oh, the same thing, Larry. It's such a terribly exciting and emotional time for all those prisoners and their families. They're all anxious and excited to get back together, to get reunited, and to step on U.S. soil again. It looks to me like they might be (unintelligible).
KING: Ready to come off.
STORR: They might not have to do that.
KING: Colonel Ritchie, why do they have to clear customs?
RITCHIE: Sir, I can not answer that question. I'm a psychiatrist.
KING: That is red tape beyond all red tape. What do you make -- who are these people going on the plane now? Does anyone know who they might be? Colonel Eberly, do you know what that might be?
EBERLY: I have no idea. They may be customs people.
KING: A lot of them. Colonel Ritchie, do you know who they are?
RITCHIE: They're there to make sure they're not smuggling in too many cartons of cigarettes I guess.
KING: Colonel Storr, do you have any idea?
STORR: No, really I don't, Larry. The black uniforms may have been customs uniforms. I'm not sure what they might be smuggling in. The Iraqis didn't give me anything I wanted to take home.
KING: Ed Lavandera do you know? Ed, do you know who those people were who boarded the plane?
LAVANDERA: No. I was just talking to one of the public affairs officials here who is standing next to me and he wasn't aware of who was going on. It might be just part of the procedure as to when one of these aircraft arrive here.
There's a bus holding family members, which is about 50 yards away from that door that you're seeing open and in just a short moment the family will be bussed over there to the front door and I'm being told that it looks like that reunion will take place there at the front of the aircraft now.
KING: Is that bus to the left of what we're looking at or the right?
LAVANDERA: I'm sorry, Larry?
KING: Is the bus to the left of the front of the plane or to the right?
LAVANDERA: Yes, looking at the screen it will be just off to the left. They'll drive in from your left to your right there shortly and I'll be able to give you a heads-up here as soon as that bus starts moving closer to the aircraft.
KING: There's the bus.
LAVANDERA: There they are.
KING: The family members are on that bus and as Ed tells us they will bring the bus he says about 50 yards to the plane. There you see the C-17 on the ground arrived from Germany about ten minutes ago I guess and we're just letting the picture tell the story.
A group of men have boarded the plane and we're told that customs would inspect the plane as customs will do. Would they have any other people on, psychological people on this early, Colonel Ritchie?
RITCHIE: I can not speak directly to them but most likely they're going to be followed for quite a while by psychologists and other mental health people to help them deal with what they're about to go through and it's going to be very exciting. But sometimes after the excitement there's a let down and we want to have people available to them for the let down if that happens.
KING: Some of them, I'm told, sometimes the effects of this are long lasting, right?
RITCHIE: They certainly can be. If you look at Vietnam and Korea and World War II, the effects were quite long lasting, but remember in those cases the captives were held prisoners of war for years, sometimes as long as seven years or so, and also back then we didn't know nearly as much as we know now about the best way to bring people home and how to take care of them.
So, we're anticipating that these folks will do just fine and we are going to treat them as soldiers and with the anticipation that they're going back to duty. They're not psychiatric patients. They're soldiers.
KING: If you're just joining us, you're watching LARRY KING LIVE for this Saturday night on this very special night in the United States. The people on that plane are specialist Edgar Hernandez, Mission, Texas; Specialist Joseph Hudson, Alamogordo, New Mexico; Private PFC Patrick Miller of Walter, Kansas; Sergeant James Riley of Pennsauken, New Jersey; and Specialist Shoshana Johnson of El Paso, Texas.
Also on the plane are Ronald Young of Lithia Springs, Georgia, and David Williams of Orlando, Florida. Both men are chief warrant officers. They're members of the 1st Battalion 227th Aviation Regiment from the 4th Brigade, and they will switch planes and go on to Fort Hood, Texas where their family members will meet them. Susan Candiotti is standing by there and she will cover that scene for us as it occurs. That flight takes about an hour and a half to two hours.
Now we see more servicemen going up the ramp. What do you gather this might be, Colonel Eberly?
EBERLY: Again, I have no idea. I will address your previous comment about who might be onboard. When we left Bahrain to come back to Andrews, not only did we have our own personal escort on the airplane with us, but we also had a team of medical doctors. There was probably a psychiatrist among them and they were there to shepherd us home.
KING: They were shepherds?
EBERLY: Good friends and shepherds, absolutely, and when we're looking at that bus I want you to remember that those who waited also served. There's a lot of moms and dads and spouses on that bus that have served just as hard as anybody else on that tarmac.
KING: We're all awaiting this very exciting moment. It is 7:50 Mountain time. El Paso, Texas is on Mountain time. It is 7:50 Mountain time in El Paso, Texas, the westernmost city in that huge state, and five of these soldiers are all stationed there at Fort Bliss, and we are awaiting them to come down those stairs.
We see someone coming off the plane taking pictures. Are you getting any report, Ed Lavandera, to how long it's going to take?
LAVANDERA: Not sure. I just wanted to also be able to pass along that just a little while ago I think you might have seen a line of gentlemen walking onboard the aircraft there.
LAVANDERA: We're told that probably some of the higher ranking officials here at Fort Bliss, leadership of the headquarters here, and I'm told that perhaps it might be part of an official greeting, a welcome home to these soldiers. That bus that we were talking about a little while ago with the family members are still located still hasn't moved so far.
KING: Why, Colonel Eberly, why delay this at all?
EBERLY: I have no idea. I know that as best I could, I tried to usurp my authority there a little bit as the senior guy and, of course, worked with the people who came onboard when we landed at Riyadh and then tried to shepherd the process along with suggestions and proposals of what would happen at Andrews.
And I'm quite sure that Chief Warrant Officer David Williams, Mr. Williams as he is referred to in the military, will rise to that same kind of leadership position. I know he spoke for the group the other day. I'm sure that he is anxious to get them off the airplane and get them in the arms of their family.
KING: As you can see it's very windy in El Paso on this Saturday night, and we're going to stay with you, and we'll stay over for a while following 10:00 Eastern time and so hopefully we can see these brave people, victims of circumstance come down those stairs.
We're talking with Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, United States Army Medical Corps. She's program director for mental health policy and women's issues with the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs; with Colonel David Eberly. He wrote a terrific book a while back called "Faith Beyond Belief." He was held for 43 days in the first Gulf War. And, Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr is with us of the Washington Air National Guard. He was prisoner in Gulf War I for 33 days.
Ed Lavandera is our reporter on the scene and Susan Candiotti is in Fort Hood, Texas, and earlier we spent some time with Colonel Ben Hobson who is Fort Bliss' Chief of Staff.
Now those people we're looking at now, Ed, who are they? Are they just spectators?
LAVANDERA: Yes. This is the huge crowd. I'd say we're probably up to more than 1,000 people that are here. I can't even stop counting the number of American flags that are fluttering in the wind across the way there.
And, just in front of the crowd, there's the extended family of these soldiers as well. The immediate family are the ones that will be getting much closer there to be able to greet these soldiers once they come off the aircraft. But they also have many extended family that have been flown in for this occasion from all over the country to be able to be here this evening.
KING: These would be residents of El Paso, family members of people stationed there, interested observers and the like.
LAVANDERA: Yes, a lot of them. The base here had opened up the base to invite members of the El Paso community and from all over West Texas to be able to be here this evening and we understand what we've seen a lot of times, remember it was in this area about a week and a half ago where they held a memorial service for the nine soldiers of this unit that were killed in action in this ambush on March 23.
And what we saw here were many of the spouses and other relatives of those soldiers who are still stationed overseas, still working in the 507th Maintenance Company overseas that also turned out for this. Many of those spouses had told me that over the last couple of weeks what they've experienced is an intense bonding experience with all of these different family members that they didn't particularly know incredibly well before they left but this experience has brought many of these families much closer together.
KING: Colonel Hobson told us that one of these former prisoners may have to be held overnight in the hospital. Dr. Ritchie, when does debriefing begin?
RITCHIE: Debriefing or simply talking to the POWs, ex-POWs, will have begun a long time ago. At what time is there a formal debriefing? That will depend on the individual soldier and when they're ready.
You know there's something else I'd like to highlight here. We've learned a lot about the psychological treatment. We've also learned a lot about medical treatment and there is such a wonderful effort that's been made by the medical department, Army, Navy, Air Force. You know the treatment that these folks have gotten at Landstuhl and at Walter Reed and Bethesda where many of the wounded are, it's just been an incredible effort of the medical department.
KING: Dr. Ritchie you said it began long ago. When does formal begin?
RITCHIE: Again it's hard to say. It will depend on the situation. First of all it's when the person has been medically examined, when they've had something to eat, usually some sleep. I always recommend a hot shower because I think a hot shower is better than Valium or anything else to getting people feeling better. But in my experience people have wanted to talk very quickly. They wanted to share what's happened.
There's another thing to emphasize here, which I think is really positive for these soldiers, and that's that they've been together as a group. They've been together while they were taken captive and they've been together on their way home and I think that will be a very protective effect.
So, again, I don't know for sure but I suspect that the talking therapy began very soon after they were released and it's going to continue for as long as they need it.
KING: Are they with their families tonight? Do they spend the night with their families, doctor?
RITCHIE: You'd have to ask the local people on the ground at Fort Bliss. That's my understanding from what I've heard tonight. Now, of course, we've also heard that one of the soldiers may have to spend the night in the hospital.
RITCHIE: Depending on her medical condition.
KING: Colonel Eberly, did you spend the night with your family?
EBERLY: We did the first night and then I spent the next five nights in the hospital at Malcolm Grove on Andrews Air Force Base. Much of the tests and treatment they provided us just did not lend itself to being out of the hospital, a series of X-rays, a series of internal examinations, as well as about a half a day for four or five days on intelligence debriefing.
KING: What happened to you, Colonel Storr?
STORR: It was the same scenario as Colonel Eberly. I spent the first night with my family in some quarters on base and then I spent the rest of the week in the hospital basically going through the exact same routine as Colonel Eberly described.
KING: Night is arriving in El Paso, Texas as you can see. On that bus are the family members of the former POWs waiting very anxiously one would imagine for that bus to move over toward that aircraft and have those men and women come down off that plane. This must be kind of, torture may be too strong a word, David Eberly, but it must be kind of tingling. They must be so anxious to get off that plane.
EBERLY: Absolutely. I can't imagine what's going on on that airplane that's more important than letting those seven heroes go down those steps. I just can't imagine it.
KING: What do you guess, Dr. Ritchie?
RITCHIE: I think they're probably just bursting to get out of that plane and to go kiss the ground and their families of course.
KING: Now, we see one person goes on. One person comes off. Another person goes up, not a long ramp. All of us are just waiting for the seven former POWs to set foot on American soil which they've not done as yet. They are still on that plane.
If you just joined us, a number of people have gotten on that plane, some in military garb, some not. We were told earlier by Colonel Ben Hobson that they would have to clear customs, which to all of us here seems humorous.
Now we see more people coming off. There are the families on the bus to your left which we told you 15 times. We're just awaiting the arrival of the seven prisoners of war, former prisoners of war.
I don't understand it. Do you think, Colonel Eberly do you think they're going to bring the bus right up to the gate and then just -- here comes the bus. OK, good sign here, folks. The bus is moving.
Are these people going to get all off the bus, do you think, Colonel Eberly? They wouldn't have the soldiers go on to the bus? I'm sorry, we don't have Colonel Eberly. Colonel Storr, do you think that's what's going to happen?
STORR: Boy, it's really hard to say. We got off the airplane and joined our families on the ground. They could send these guys up the ramp or up those stairs, and you know, reunite them in a little more private area on the airplane. Or they might just coming running off the airplane and join them on the bus. The bus might be kind of crowded. I think I'd rather be on the inside of that big airplane than, you know, grinning and gripping and doing all the hugging on the bus.
KING: Yes. They're not going to bring them on the bus, are they, Dr. Ritchie?
RITCHIE: I don't know, sir, but I know...
KING: No, here come the family members off the bus.
RITCHIE: I think we're all incredibly anxious to see the POWs come off the plane.
KING: We are. One family member, as you can see, in a wheelchair. Mother holding a child. These are all the immediate families. This is not like cousins. This is immediate families of these seven prisoners -- five of the prisoners of the war. The immediate families of the two at Fort Hood are at Fort Hood, Texas. And they'll be arriving later.
Another camera standing to the back of the plane So maybe, Ed, they are going to come off the back?
LAVANDERA: I think you're right, Larry. I was just telling our photographer to pan over.
KING: Crowd is screaming and yelling. But I -- was I presumptuous in saying there they are?
LAVANDERA: There, you can see there, Shoshana Johnson's father, and I think just a little while ago, he was holding Shoshana's two- year old daughter.
KING: Okay, Ed, you tell us, are these the POWS coming off, or are these still others?
LAVANDERA: Looks like it. I'm -- they still haven't completely made their way off the back of the ramp. So the vantage point that I have, they're still covered up. I see a lot of movement there, and I see a lot of handshakes.
KING: Can the camera get closer?
LAVANDERA: There's Joseph Hudson coming right here. If you look there on the bottom part of your screen.
LAVANDERA: Right behind the gentleman in the black shirt is Joseph Hudson, hugging a family member.
KING: There's the scene, folks. This can go without descriptions. Have we lost Colonel Eberly? Colonel Storr, what are you thinking?
STORR: Seven of the happiest people on earth right there. I remember exactly how that feels. I couldn't wait to hug everybody I could get my arms around. It's a tremendous feeling.
KING: Dr. Ritchie, what are you feeling?
RITCHIE: I'm glad that the camera's not looking at me, because I got tears in my eyes, and I wouldn't want anybody to see that because a psychiatrist isn't supposed to have tears in their eyes. This is so, so wonderful.
KING: They will give them quite time with them now do you think, doctor?
RITCHIE: I think so.
KING: Ed, what are you telling us from your vantage point?
LAVANDERA: Well, the only thing I've really been able to make out so far was Joseph Hudson, who'd come off and hug a family member. I also saw Shoshana Johnson's family, his father, just a little while ago, holding Shoshana Johnson's two-year old daughter, making their way to the -- oh, and there it looks like Shoshana's coming off now. You see soldiers holding a stretcher, just beyond the American flag there.
KING: Yes, I believe she's the last one off.
LAVANDERA: Shoshana's parents are there in the crowd, but I seem to have lost them now. Shoshana's father's wearing a dark shirt and light colored pants. But in the middle of that crowd you see there, I believe, is the soldiers that have brought off Shoshana in a stretcher. We'll see if we can -- be able to make out a little bit better detail here shortly.
KING: Now do they remain with their family for quite some time, Dr. Ritchie? Or are they separated and brought somewhere?
RITCHIE: Well, usually, what will happen is there will be a series of medical tests. And there will also become (unintelligible) for up to 30 days. Depending on their medical condition, these guys with a couple of exceptions look really healthy. I suspect that the time that they spend in the hospital will be relatively short.
There will be a lot of emphasis on time with the families, and also again, on getting back to duty. That's going to be the goal, not before they're ready, but these are soldiers, and they'll be going back to their units.
KING: What happened with you, Colonel Storr?
STORR: I spent the first night with my family and didn't have to deal with any of the doctors or nurses. No tests or anything like that. I spent a very close and private night with my family when I was first released.
Then we got into the testing and the checkups and all that stuff for the next week. So they gave you plenty of time to decompress in that first night and first day, and then things starting picking up after that.
KING: Apparently, Specialist Shoshana Johnson will be put in on ambulance. Looks that way. There's an ambulance right next to there and I think they're carrying her on to that vehicle.
And of course, Ronald Young of Lithia Springs, Georgia and David Williams of Orlando will switch airplanes and be flown to Fort Hood. And Sandy Candiotti is on the scene -- Susan Candiotti is on the scene there. And that'll take about an hour and a half to two hour flight.
Ed, are you describing this, because I'm hearing you like you're lost? LAVANDERA: Well, it's rather loud here, but that was Shoshana Johnson, her fellow soldiers helped her up, and she started waving the American flag there. You know, I talked to her sister just a few days ago, when she had first hear the news. And after her first conversation with Shoshana Johnson, her sister had passed along to me -- her sister, by the way, is also a captain in the Army -- and she had passed along the story that Shoshana had said, "You know, I did everything I could right -- I did everything right that night when this ambush happened. And I got -- tried to crawl out of that situation, and I was still shot twice."
Her father's there -- see her father?
LAVANDERA: You see her father in the dark shirt and the light colored pants. He's also a veteran of the first Gulf War.
KING: Remember Private Patrick Miller of Walter, Kansas, the fellow with the flag on top of the plane? With us on the phone is his half brother, Shane Parker.
Did you watch that scene, Shane?
SHANE PARKER, BROTHER OF FMR. POW: Sure did.
KING: Was that very typical of Patrick?
KING: And what is this like for you?
PARKER: Well, I'm happy to see him. I see my mom on TV. I'm happy to see that everybody's there. Glad to see he's okay.
KING: And so he would be the kind of live wire who would carry a flag up and go up the stairs, and go up the top of an airplane?
PARKER: Yes, that sounds like Pat.
KING: Is he career military, Shane?
PARKER: I think so, yes.
KING: And you all live in Wichita, right?
KING: When do you expect to see your brother?
PARKER: Hopefully soon.
KING: What a scene this is. Who's with you watching it?
PARKER: Nobody, just me. My brother, Tom, just called, but I was on the phone. KING: Well, Shane, thank you. I know this is -- there no way to describe this, I mean...
PARKER: I'm just happy.
KING: You sure are. Thanks for joining us.
PARKER: Happy's as I've ever been.
KING: I can understand. Shane Parker, the half brother of Patrick Miller, the young gentleman who was up waving the flag. They are getting Specialist Shoshana Johnson apparently -- I guess they're going to put her -- are they going to put her in the ambulance, Ed?
LAVANDERA: I don't think so. She's sitting on the back of that golf cart. And perhaps she still has to undergo some medical testing here. But perhaps at least for this initial ride off the tarmac, she might stay on. Looks like she's staying on that golf cart for now.
KING: Is the crowd continuing to stay? Or are they dispersing?
LAVANDERA: Oh, no, the crowd is still very much here. There's -- I'm hoping you can be able to -- you're able to hear everything in the Army band that has been playing and performing here for the last hour or so, entertaining the crowd. And the cheers still remain rather loud.
KING: We want to thank, before leave you in a little while, Colonel David Eberly, who of course the satellite went down for him; and Colonel David Storr, the satellite went down as well for reporting so ably for us throughout the hour and 10 minutes from Richmond, Virginia and Spokane, Washington. We're going to try to get Colonel Eberly back for our remaining moments with you.
We'll be turning it over shortly to Anderson Cooper on CNN Saturday. And he'll be carrying this story further into the night. And he'll be taking you to Fort Hood, where Susan Candiotti is standing by, for when the two other soldiers, who are now here on the ground at Fort Bliss, switch planes and head on.
And David Eberly is back with us. I'm sorry we lost you for a while, Colonel. What are your thoughts?
EBERLY: Well, I'd just like to again say that quite a blessing for these families, as we go into this Easter weekend. And I think every American can be proud of the young men and women who are still over there fighting, and very proud of the performance of these seven, plus Private Lynch.
I would imagine that she's watching this and wishes she could be there with them.
KING: And there's Shoshana waving the flag. Is she going to have a rough time because she was also injured, Dr. Ritchie?
RITCHIE: I think she'll do just fine. You know, sometimes I'm asked the question oh whether well is it rougher for women to be taken POW? And we don't have a whole lot of experience, but what we can say, based on the Navy nurses that were taken POW in World War II, based on the female soldiers in the first Gulf War, women do very well. They are tough. And they manage to survive. So I think she's going to do fine.
KING: Where are they going now do you think, Colonel Eberly?
EBERLY: I think they're probably going back to some sort of small reception. And then they will be spending time, private time, with their families. I can remember that when we got back to the room, I sat on the floor and my family waited patiently, while I talked for about three hours, just going through everything that happened.
It's a time for families to put their arms around those soldiers and then just listen and let them talk about it.
KING: What a feeling. They're back home.
Colonel Ritchie, the emotion does not drain off easily, does it?
RITCHIE: No, it doesn't.
KING: There they go. And the family members will obviously probably get back on a bus and be transported to meet them.
Ed Lavandera, any final word from you there before we turn it over to Anderson?
LAVANDERA: Well, Larry, the golf carts have just made their way back behind that line over by the American flag you see in the distance, because more of the crowds, I think the golf carts are kind of taking the soldiers -- showing them off right here in front of this crowd.
KING: It is night time in El Paso, as you can see, night has fallen. A beautiful, windy night in the West Texas city, where the seven former prisoners of war have returned. Two will go on to Fort Hood. And Susan Candiotti will be reporting from Fort Hood.
And we've been talking with Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, United States Army Medical Corps. And that medical corps has gone right to work now, aren't they?
RITCHIE: They sure are. They're always there whenever they're needed.
KING: And Colonel Eberly, who was held for 43 days during Gulf War I, author of "Faith Beyond Belief," I guess this -- Colonel Eberly, is just to let them see the crowd, right?
EBERLY: Yes, it is. And I wouldn't be surprised if what somebody will hop off that cart, shake a hand with somebody. Or maybe that's Williams right there.
But what an honor it is, what an honor it is.
KING: Did you have this at Andrews, too? Colonel Eberly, did you have this at Andrews?
EBERLY: Yes, we did. As we have said, it was overwhelming, the number of people who came out, people from neighborhoods that we had lived in. And you know, those are the real heroes of Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and this Gulf War, the people who stay home and support the effort of the troops that move forward.
Clearly, they're the heroes of any sort of combat effort that this nation entertains.
KING: A lot of these people obviously know a lot of the people that they're waving at, because they either live in El Paso, which is not a huge community, or their relatives and -- of other people stationed at the base, right? Wouldn't you guess that, Colonel Eberly? They know these people.
EBERLY: Yes, they know them. And I wouldn't be surprised that what people have come in from other cities outside of El Paso, just to share in this historic moment.
KING: Now they're being brought to it looks -- what is that, Ed? Ed Lavandera, where is that -- what is that building?
LAVANDERA: That building is the -- what's known as the deployment center here. And this is the base -- this is the last building these soldiers saw before they were deployed, at least the soldiers from the 507. This is the last building they saw well, before they were deployed back in mid February for the Middle East.
And this is also the building where the memorial service was held just a week and a half ago for the other nine soldiers who were killed in action in that -- on March 23 in the same ambush where these soldiers ended up as prisoners of war.
KING: Dr. Ritchie, is it wise to have a reception for them? By that, I mean, you know, serve cola or something?
RITCHIE: They've had some time in Landstuhl to get ready for this. So I suspect that this is terrific. I suspect that they are just loving this.
KING: These pictures don't need description. I guess, Colonel Eberly, you kind of relive it, huh?
EBERLY: Yes, you do. It'll never go away. And you know, I think we've probably got a lot of people out there in your viewing audience that have served in other conflicts, members of the greatest generation, members of the military that served in Vietnam, Korea, and others. And we also need to remember the efforts that they made to keep this great country free, and where it is today.
We -- the military is one big family. And you know, clearly, I think that the men and women we have heard about on the battlefields in Iraq today are vying to be members of the next greatest generation.
KING: Dr. Ritchie, are they taught about dealing with adulation, media attention? Like are they told how to handle that?
RITCHIE: They are taught about it, however, I think sort of like going into combat, you can be taught a lot...
RITCHIE: ...but the reality may be different.
KING: Well, I want to thank Ed Lavandera. He'll be continuing on the scene. I want to thank Lieutenant Colonel Elspeth Cameron Ritchie of the U.S. Medical Corps, Colonel David Eberly, United States Air Force Retired, earlier Lieutenant Colonel Dale Storr, the Washington Air National Guard, and all of the guests tonight.
Susan Candiotti remains in Fort Hood, Texas to cover the scene from there.
We've been with you all the way, and we had no commercial interruption in order to bring you this historic night. What a -- look at that scene. What a beautiful scene that is on an obviously gorgeous night in El Paso with the return of the seven POWs.
That's it for this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. And I'm going to turn it over to my compatriot, Anderson Cooper with CNN SATURDAY. Anderson, the ball is yours.
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