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Williams, Young Arrive at Ft. Hood

Aired April 19, 2003 - 23:43   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's listen. While we stay on the picture of ...

COOPER: Go ahead Susan.

CANDIOTTI: You just asked me a question. Yes, we did just see the plane land to the cheers of a lot of people who just heard that announcement as well. You've got hundreds of soldiers here, hundreds of them and now you see the plane taxing. Of course that'll take a few minutes.

COOPER: Susan, what is that -- what is that chanting?

CANDIOTTI: They are chanting first team Hood. That's what they're chanting.

COOPER: Susan, I believe it's Hood.

CANDIOTTI: Hood, thank you very much. You got it.

COOPER: All right.

CANDIOTTI: In any case, though, once the jet taxies in here they are going to be pulling up to a van. A medical staff will be checking out the two pilots, two Apache pilots, David Williams and Ronald Young, Jr. They will be making sure that they're feeling up to coming out and facing this crowd and we don't have much doubt that they're willing to do so given how great they've looked throughout the day. In any case, they will be checked out and then be stepping out onto a red carpet and then they will be greeted by all these soldiers who are members of the fourth Aviation Brigade. They will then march through and be enveloped by those soldiers as they go onto to meet their parents and move onto the podium. It's going to be an exciting time for them. We do know that the Major General here, Joseph Peterson, will be briefly addressing them and then the pilots will be given an opportunity to say a few words. The families in the meantime are up or soon will be up on the podium. I actually don't see them yet sitting up there although other dignitaries certainly are.

COOPER: Susan, do we know where the families are going to actually greet the two former POWs?

CANDIOTTI: Yes, we sure do. As soon as they pass through the soldiers right sort of in the middle between where the soldiers are standing and where the podium is set up. The families will be walking down toward them and it should be quite something to see as they get an opportunity to meet, in case of Ronald Young, his parents are here, nine people flew in today from Atlanta, Georgia, his two brothers, two sisters and wives and husbands as well of the spouses and Michelle Williams, Dave Williams' wife will be here along with her two children and Dave Williams' father as well will be here.

COOPER: And it's interesting to contrast this homecoming to what we just witnessed about an hour and 20 minutes ago in Fort Bliss which was a quick much more chaotic scene, often difficult to tell who was getting of the planes. The families brought to the place where the C- 17 offloaded the former POWs. There were crowds. It was very difficult to tell. This seems like it's going to be much more orderly. We're looking right now at a picture of the Young family I believe. Is that right?

CANDIOTTI: We do. That is the Young family. To the left you see, behind the woman who is wearing sort of the red orange blouse, that is Mark Young, that's his eldest brother and younger brother Jesse standing right next to him and obviously they look like they can't wait to see him. That's a sister in law standing in front of them and her husband. So a lot of -- I don't see Michelle Williams at this time but I'm sure if we can grab a shot of her we will just as soon as we can. Pulling out wide I see another one of the two sisters of Ronald Young. The blonde young woman is Samantha Kelly standing in front. They are giving a wave now and their -- one of the husbands as well.

COOPER: And look at those smiles ear to ear.

CANDIOTTI: Well they can't wait. Well I know earlier they were talking about I don't know if we want to be bothered with the home video cameras but I couldn't imagine that they were going to miss preserving that moment on videotape and they certainly are doing that. So they'll have a lot to look at not to mention I mean boxes and boxes and scrapbooks full of cards and letters from people who have been sending messages to both of these families from literally all over the country and the world including former POWs who had been in constant touch with these families over the past three weeks to try to give them strength.

Michelle Williams, you will recall, is a pilot herself, another Apache pilot and so she has had the comfort of those around her on this base but it's been very difficult for her as well as long with her two children as they waited to get word of the family. You know it was just one week ago this night as you look again at a wide shot at the relatives of Ronald Young, just one week ago early morning hours of Sunday that they got word that their two pilots had been rescued and also something interesting to remember, way back when on the night of March 23rd when this whole thing started, it was Ron Young's mother who said that she had more or less a premonition that something that happened that night. She said she felt something and oddly she described smelling the scent of her son she said she recalled when he was a baby and she woke, told her husband about it and he worried that this meant that perhaps he had been killed in action.

Fortunately that was not the case. They did receive word during the day on March 24th that he had been missing in action and then received word that he was in fact a POW, were very happy to learn by watching the videotape shown on Iraqi television that they were -- did not appear to be harmed but then during the course of the three weeks, relatives of both pilots of course very concerned about what had been happening. And when we saw the fall of Baghdad, both described being very worried because they heard the Pentagon saying that they were indeed very concerned that they did not have any word of the seven POWs.

No one was coming forward with any information until just last Saturday, Sunday when apparently as we understand it some Iraqis approached some Marines who were about 75 miles north of Baghdad, came up to them and said are you here to take the prisoners and the Marines looked at them, quickly realized they had some vital information, put together a plan, went into the town of Samarra and tried to locate the house where apparently they had been held. The prisoners had been moved from place to place about four or five or maybe six, a half dozen times and these Marines were led to a house, tried to find it, couldn't quite see it, and then pilot David Williams describes sticking his head out the door or the window to say, "I'm an American."

At that point the Marines rushed in there. Said stand up and appear if you are an American. Of course, all seven did and in fact we are told that the Iraqis who were holding them at that time were treating them fairly well according to the pilots for the last few days that they had indeed been pooling their money for food and medicine to help take care of them. And so we're told that pilot David Williams told the Marines, "Don't hurt them. They've been taking fairly good care of us." And it was at that point within three minutes we were told that they were out of that house into waiting vehicles and onto a helicopter to be brought from Iraq to Kuwait.

COOPER: Susan, as we look at this picture of the crowds of hundreds of soldiers in formation, waiting these two former POWs, you know I'm reminded the Army likes to advertise that they are the Army of one stressing the individual but when you look at the hundreds of soldiers standing in formation, the message is clear. You are not just one. You are not alone. We are with you. We are here to greet you home and help you in whatever you need in the coming days and weeks and no doubt that image is going to be very comforting. I can't even imagine what it would be like for those two former POWs when they set foot on that red carpet not only seeing their loved ones but seeing their other loved ones, their Army family waiting there for them.

CANDIOTTI: It's an impressive sea of faces isn't it as they wait and just beyond the view of this camera shot inside the hanger, you have several hundred additional people who are wives and husbands and other friends and relatives, other dignitaries who are also waiting to see these pilots and show their support, many of whom still have relatives, we're told about 10, 20,000 people from Fort Hood here are currently serving over in Iraq and they are here to show, you see them now, their solidarity. We interviewed the wife of an Apache pilot who is over there now who said they're here to show that they are all indeed part of a family and that they are all going through this together and they wanted to show their support and also share in the happiness of both the Young and the Williams family that they are here to welcome them home.

COOPER: And as we've seen the plane touching down, we are awaiting a taxiing to this area. I just want to give a sense to the viewers what we are going to witness and I will bring Susan in for this because she knows better than I, but in terms of our coverage, our commentary, I think as much as Susan and I enjoy hearing ourselves talk, I think once we actually see them, we're going to sort of let the pictures speak for themselves and just sort of enjoy the pictures and the sound as much as we can. We'll try to sort of describe what you are watching as warranted but as much as possible I think we'll just let this very special moment speak for itself.

CANDIOTTI: Couldn't agree for you more and I'm sure Anderson that the sound of everything will just take over and we'll have plenty to watch and see and take in as that happens. You know you saw the family. They're not waiting on the dais, not at all. They're at the edge of the hanger waiting to get sight of them and they've been standing there for several minutes now without complaint quite obviously but they're awfully anxious. You can tell by the smiles on their faces and their craning their necks to see what they can see but they're ready with their video cameras as you can see. That's Kelly Lively, one of the sisters of Ronald Young, waiting to take some shots and it should be quite a moment as they -- as they come down that red carpet because we expect them to be -- to be greeted by the 4th Aviation Brigade.

Just a couple of minutes from now we understand, we just got the signal that should be in just two minutes from now when they will be pulled up in a van here and get off that van and onto the red carpet and then it'll be quite a sight to see.

COOPER: Sorry go ahead.

CANDIOTTI: Eventually when they step down there and after they meet their family and go onto the podium, of course the Major General Joseph Peterson will be addressing the crowd very, very briefly we are told and again to remind everyone then we'll be hearing from the pilots and it'll be something to hear them because the last time, as you recall, it was when Dave Williams spoke on behalf of all of the former POWs in Germany and now he'll be speaking to them here and then they are -- they'll be whisked off for some down time with their families.

COOPER: Now Ronald Young and David Williams are members of the 1st Battalion 227th Aviation Regiment which is from the division's 4th Brigade. I imagine a lot of that unit are still obviously overseas in Iraq. Do you know what regiments or what units are standing by now?

CANDIOTTI: Well, the ones that you see here are from that 4th Brigade, part of an aviation unit and we know that there are a number of spouses of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here comes the music. Well the plane of course landed about (UNINTELLIGIBLE) almost 15 minutes ago so we were told that they would be getting a look over by members of the medical staff here and then we would see the van pull up and then they would exit that van. So (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we were given a warning that they would be here in just a couple of minutes and that the music started, perhaps that was a preview to what is to come but not getting any sight of them yet. We do know that all their families were saying that they were just going -- couldn't begin to imagine what they would be thinking when they saw the show of support. We're sure that they'll be overwhelmed by at least that's what the family is saying but they think that they have a sense at least in the case of Ron Young that he'll be looking forward to telling his story. He is described as a very gregarious kind of guy. He has a young nine month old son as well and Michelle Williams has two children and they're looking forward to just seeing their Dad I'm sure. You can imagine, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, and it was Ron Young who we saw (UNINTELLIGIBLE) sprinting onto that aircraft that was bringing them out of the area in which they were first rescued from and it was also Ron Young and David Williams who we saw pop out of the hatch of the C-17 I believe it was early this morning though it seems like a long time ago now.

CANDIOTTI: That's for sure and you know I was with the families, the Young family anyway last Sunday morning when the first pictures were shown of them on CNN and of course they were pixilated at first, very fuzzy and out of focus but sitting there with the relatives they said they knew it was him right away. It didn't matter that they were out of focus. When you know your loved one, you know them and they had no trouble recognizing him and as soon as that happened, they were able to tell us about how they looked and what it felt like to see them of course a massive sense of relief. His father said he started breathing. He said it's just like I've been given my life back again.

COOPER: And I imagine it's such a relief to have that image of them as POWs erased and a new image to take its place, a happier image of them smiling, looking healthier, no doubt having lost weight and having needs ahead of them but an end in sight. It looks like ...

CANDIOTTI: Well definitely both -- well whenever they tell you two minutes, I guess it's pretty hard to believe. Clearly it's been more than that now but I know that in the case of Ron Young, he told his parents in that phone call that he lost a good 20 pounds, both of them obviously lost weight although the doctors time and again and they themselves told their, the wives and the families, parents that they are doing well physically, appear to be very well off and in good shape and catching up on movies and the news while they were in Germany.

COOPER: Susan, as we continue to look at both pictures, both the wide shot of the troops waiting and also some of the family members, I don't know if you can see the family members shot but if you can just sort of give us a sense of who is who. I don't know if you can see where the camera is pointing from your vantage point.

CANDIOTTI: I can. I don't recognize the group that you're looking at right now but a little farther over is where the family members are. I'm not sure if that is David Williams' father. That might have been but I'm not certain of that.

COOPER: And these are the Youngs, right?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. That is the Young family. You've got Samantha there in the white shirt.

COOPER: Samantha is a sister, Ronald Young's sister?

CANDIOTTI: Samantha is the youngest sister as a matter of fact and then just in front of her is Brad Lively who is married to Kelly Lively in the dark shirt, the brunette. Standing behind her is the husband of one of the other sisters, actually the husband of Samantha. Sorry to keep the family tree straight here. And in the pinkish reddish shirt, that is Marcion (ph) and he's the oldest brother. To the left of him is Jesse and he's the youngest brother there talking with a member of the division there as you can see over their shoulder.

COOPER: And do you know who the -- there's a pregnant lady in the foreground. Do you know who she is?

CANDIOTTI: I'm afraid I do not. I'm afraid I do not.

COOPER: OK. Well, your knowledge of the family, the Young family is quite extensive, very impressive.


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