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War Stories From the Frontlines

Aired April 26, 2003 - 20:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is a special presentation of CNN PRESENTS.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): North of the Euphrates River we have seen probably 20 or so Iraqi soldiers dead, lying close to the road.

It turned out that one of those soldiers is still alive.

(on camera): All of a sudden this guys sits up. You know it's like one of those bad movies where everybody in the morgue is dead except one guy who sits up under the sheet and they were just horrified.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Marines continue to drive into the southeastern suburbs of Baghdad. The 1st Battalion 7th Marines has been tasked with the job of cleanup. It is house-to-house searches sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come outside. Everybody in the house needs to come outside. Keep your hands up.

SAVIDGE (on camera): Your heart just aches. You want to run up and grab those children and let them know it's all right.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was clear that inside that city there were the bodies of several Marines still there, still lying there and the commander of our battalion made it top priority to go back and recover those bodies and that's when I saw one of the most incredible scenes of that entire experience. U.S. officers digging with their bare hands the ground picking up body parts of their fallen comrades.


ANNOUNCER: These stories and more ahead on WAR STORIES FROM THE FRONT LINES.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: It was the most televised war of all time, a war covered like no other.

Welcome to a special edition of CNN PRESENTS. I'm Aaron Brown.

If the war with Iraq yielded one thing, one word, it was the word "embed, hundreds of reporters rolling right along with the troops all the way to Baghdad and beyond, transmitting live via satellite and videophone.

And while history will ultimately determine the media's role in the war, the fact remains that embedded journalists brought the world some remarkable images, some remarkable moments from the front lines as those moments happened.

Over the next hour, we'll bring you some of those moments and some perspective from the reporters who were there. This is not the whole story of the war, just some of the elements, large and small, that we believe help bring the reality of the war into sharper focus.

And so, we begin at the beginning with that mad dash through the southern desert of Iraq. CNN's Walter Rodgers and photographer Charlie Miller were embedded with the Army's 7th Cavalry and, we warn you, this is war, so some of what you're going to see is quite graphic.


RODGERS (voice over): A giant wave of steel sweeping northward across the Iraqi desert and imagine that hourly the size and scope of that wave of steel increases.

I knew that we were making history there because we were broadcasting real time pictures of the push towards Baghdad albeit with the 7th Cavalry.

(on camera): So, I tried to impress the viewers with this sense of history, folks you're seeing this firsthand. You've never seen anything like this before.

(voice-over): And that steel wave seems to grow in momentum and power with every hour as it -- as more forces coalesce and move towards Iraq.

(on camera): And I described it as a wave of steel because fanned out across the horizon there were Bradley fighting vehicles and M1A1 Abram tanks.

(voice-over): The situation here appears to be increasingly tense. A few moments ago out on the horizon not very far ahead of the U.S. Army's 3rd Squadron 7th Cavalry we heard more than a few explosions.

CHARLIE MILLER, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: We broke through into Iraq at still dark. We drove through the night and got to a refueling point and then it was only then I began to appreciate how big this unit was when you saw it spread out across acres and acres of desert.

So, you know, I would have a tank, you know, 200 meters or 200 yards to my right, and then I would swing the camera to the left and there was a Bradley vehicle coming up in the sand and behind us there would be other vehicles, and it was just an amazing ride.

RODGERS: At one point I could see bullets, you know, hitting in the dust beside us 20 feet out on either side of the car. We could hear the RPGs going overhead. We could see the antiaircraft 20mm going over our head.

(voice-over): At first it was exhilarating and it remained exhilarating throughout the whole experience, that is to saw we were on an adrenalin high.

(on camera): I love to quote Winston Churchill who once said there's nothing so exhilarating as being shot at and missed, and that's true.

(voice-over): We have been under heavy fire for the past couple miles, mostly small arms fire but the sandstorm has enabled the Iraqis to come very close to the road and, if I sound a little nervous it's because we're in a soft-skinned vehicle and everybody else is in armor.

(on camera): It was a sandstorm of biblical proportions and there were more than a few. It cut your eyes. The sand cut your eyes and your tear glands just dry up. They can't possibly keep all the dust out, and I remember awakening one night in the middle of a sandstorm, and we were sleeping right out in the middle of it, and my tears had formed a mud cast. I couldn't get my eyelashes open because the tears and the mud sealed your eyes closed, so you had to pick the mud off your eyelashes so you could open your eyes the next morning.

PAUL JORDAN, CNN SECURITY ADVISER: One particular night we were leading. We were driving up to Najaf to secure three bridges on the northwestern side. Driving through the night about nine o'clock we saw -- I saw the tracer rounds coming in, bouncing off the tank. Somebody in the car said, is that a flare and I said no, we're in an ambush. We're being shot at.

RODGERS (voice-over): They went through the uncharted road. There was the northern bank of the Euphrates and there were a lot of palm trees, date palm trees there. It looked just like Southeast Asia, rice patty type things and big, tall palm trees.

(on camera): And the tanks couldn't move their 120mm guns if they came under fire and no one had scouted the road and the first tank across the bridge collapsed the bridge, pancake, boom, and they were all trapped there.

Now, if the Iraqis were anything other than a fifth rate army, if they were the Viet Cong, we would have been cut up that night. We were sort of trapped there but we weren't under fire at that point. That could have been a very messy, ugly situation.

(voice-over): North of the Euphrates River, we have seen probably 20 or so Iraqi soldiers dead, lying close to the road, all of them obviously injured with bullet holes. There were many, many dead Iraqis lying in fields and particularly on the side of the road.

(on camera): We would see scores of them just lying there in the road and there was no -- I think one of my most unpleasant experiences was when we went to our final staging position south of Baghdad and there were more dead Iraqis in the road. (voice-over): They say dead people have the look as if they're asleep. There was none of that. This was the look of death by contortion and violence.

(on camera): I saw somebody look very avariciously at a silver watch on a dead Iraqi soldier and I gave that individual a stiff lecture. You never take from a dead man.

(voice-over): Earlier in the morning a burned out armored personnel carrier and a burned out Soviet T72, Soviet vintage T72 tank, we had seen a number of bodies there but as one of our crew was walking by it turned out that one of those soldiers is still alive. We're not sure of the condition.

JORDAN: And I looked around and one of the Iraqis that we had presumed was dead did move.

RODGERS: All of a sudden this guy sits up and he jumped. You know it's like one of those bad movies where everybody in the morgue is dead except one guy who sits up under the sheet and they were just horrified.

JORDAN (voice-over): I ran to him and I was concerned that he might have a weapon but he didn't. He put up his hands. He broke down. He started crying. He started praying. We started treating his wounds and stabilizing him but he survived the night and got better and it was just one of those uplifting experiences that we all needed at that point in time because we were surrounded by death. If we couldn't see a dead body we could smell it.

MILLER: The strongest feeling might have been the sadness I felt for, you know, some of the dead bodies, the individuals that I knew had died a violent and you might think a senseless death.

RODGERS: My counsel to anyone who's ever been in that situation, and I would tell the soldiers this, never look them in the face and never get a fixed image of a dead Iraqi in the road because the camera in your mind will keep it with you for life.



BROWN: The battle for Nasiriya wasn't supposed to be much of a fight at all but this town in south central Iraq became the scene of one of the fiercest fights in the short war.

CNN's Alessio Vinci and photographer David Allbritton were with the 2nd Marines.


VINCI: What really struck when we arrived on the outskirts of Nasiriya was that there was no sense that we were at war.

(voice-over): All this -- this huge convoy were trucks with their headlights on driving unchallenged and undisturbed in the middle of the Iraqi desert. Nobody had thought that there was going to be a fight.

(on camera): The following day we encountered what was the first reality of war and that was a maintenance unit of the U.S. military that was ambushed just outside of Nasiriya.

DAVID ALLBRITTON, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: You could see two of the vehicles from the convoy, the Army convoy were just burning, I mean just bright orange flame, and behind them was an oil refinery and some of the pipes had been ruptured, and there was thick black, thick smoke coming out. It just looked like a scene out of, you know, "Dante's Inferno." It was just this (unintelligible).

VINCI: At that moment early in the morning, two senior Marine officials arrived at the scene and they said you have to keep that supply route open. You have to open it up. We need it. We need it by today. Now, the plan was to leave the city to our left, meaning to, you know, to just bypass the city and keep just the main supply route open.

ALLBRITTON: We went and made our turn into the side, basically the outskirts.

VINCI: What happened is that the company, the other company of the battalion, was behind us and especially one of them, the Charlie Company. They went straight instead of following us to the east. They went straight and they went straight into the city and so they basically pushed forward until they started being -- they were met by a barrage of RPGs, rocket-propelled grenades and all kind of incoming and that's when the real battle of Nasiriya began if you want.

ALLBRITTON: I mean they basically ran into the jaws of the beast. I mean it was horrendous when you hear that they were just, you know, fighting for their lives. I mean literally they were maybe half a kilometer away from us or a kilometer away from us and they're in this nasty fight and we're bogged down on the side, so we couldn't even get there to help them.

VINCI: We arrived there several hours later and it was clear that something horrible had happened.

ALLBRITTON: I had my camera and I looked down and I see them carrying a body past me, you know, and one of the worst jobs that you have to do as a cameraman is to take pictures of dead bodies. So, they were reverently carrying this guy and -- and somebody's husband, somebody's brother, you know, somebody's son was not with us anymore.

VINCI: When you lost 18 colleagues in a firefight of that magnitude, I mean I think that, you know, it has to have an impact. On the following day, the commander of our battalion made it a top priority to go back and recover those dead bodies.

This is a very, very important thing, especially in the Marine Corps, you know. You don't leave anybody behind, nor dead, nor alive, and then so they wanted to get those bodies back and that's when I saw one of the most incredible scenes of that entire experience and this was U.S. officers digging with their bare hands to ground, picking up body parts of their fallen comrades.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lord, our God, the death of our brothers...

VINCI: None of the Marines ever considered that the battle for Nasiriya, you know, losing 18 Marines was some kind of a defeat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd just like to say a few words.

VINCI: You know, for them the mission was controlling the bridges, controlling the main supply route, mission accomplished, mission successful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All those Marines laid down their lives for us here today. They'd do it again in a heartbeat and they're all watching us. They've got our backs.

VINCI: It reinforced them the belief that this is something that, you know, they know that, you know, when they go to war, when they leave the United States to go to war dead or alive they're going to come back.



BROWN: Marines have a saying about taking a city. Be polite. Be professional and be prepared to kill everyone you meet. Such is the nature of urban combat where every door, every balcony, every street is a potential death trap.

CNN's Martin Savidge and photographer Scott McWinney and Gerard Kain (ph) were with the 7th Marines as they secured towns, raised fears, and fought for their lives all the way to Baghdad.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, I'm popping this corner. They got a door. It looks like it goes into like a shed.

SAVIDGE (voice-over): This was closer to Baghdad. This is when we started to get into the urban areas. This is where it gets dangerous for the Marines because it now house-to-house kind of searching.

(on camera): Alleyways and a doorway or a balcony, any of those could be lethal for a Marine unit on foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See the one with the blue tarp on it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I got it. I see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the (unintelligible).

SCOTT MCWINNIE, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: We had been fired at from in the fields at the back so they had to go in and they see two people move down from walls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a window to the right.


MCWINNIE: We go into the house and kick in the door.

SAVIDGE: The Marines go in and they're shouting in English and they're knocking on the doors. There's a lot of commotion and the family inside is obviously afraid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come out. Come out. Open the door. Open the door. Get your hands up and come outside. Come outside. Everybody in the house needs to come outside. No. Keep your hands up. Everybody come outside.

SAVIDGE: The father comes out initially and he seems to be sort of trying to say that his family is inside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Unintelligible). Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. Yes, clear the house now.

SAVIDGE: And the look on these children's face and his wife are just horror, terrified that you want to run up and grab those children and let them know it's all right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going down straight.

SAVIDGE: (Unintelligible) would feel sort of very angry at the (unintelligible) because of the trauma that they're inducing on a family and you forget, you know, they're trying to clear a village, a town, and they're trying to control a population and that there are embedded within that population people trying to murder them at that moment. So, there are a lot of emotions that go through.

The day had come where units were getting into Baghdad and this seemed like the grand finale, the big finish. One of the biggest problems we had throughout our whole ordeal was our vehicle, which we relied on for transportation and transmission broke down.

And some days it was starting OK and other days it would quit and we began to -- we began to understand that it would quit at the most inopportune times, usually when the fighting started. So, we were then towed, one Humvee up front, tow bar in between, and our Humvee immediately following it. Crossing that canal, that bridge, was the tripwire that we were actually in Baghdad.

MCWINNIE: We go across the bridge, the Tigris, the big one, before you get into Baghdad center, and as (unintelligible) we were so -- we had been listening to the radio and it was like quite quiet and you're thinking this is a bit weird and the guys were like it's unusually quiet.

So, we go over the barrier, turn around, and then a boat on the river opens up and starts firing at us. So, I'm trying to climb out the car to film but the car is still moving. I get out and start trying to film and the bullets are just pinging off the car. So, I'm trying to get back in the car and then the car goes without me so I'm running just trying to get in the car.

SAVIDGE: And then suddenly off to our left there were several explosions.

We also have another photographer in the top of this APC which is right beside us and that is Scott McWinnie also with CNN.

I see an Amtrak with Scott, the photographer in it in the command car shooting from up there and it goes running into a wall, knocks a wall down at the university and that's when the driver of the Humvee that was towing us said we are going in. Hang on. And I thought going in, going -- you mean in there?

So, we climbed the curb.

We're getting hurled into the air. The vehicle is getting thrown here and there and I could barely, all of us in the vehicle were just trying to hang on. I thought for sure we'd lose the connection because it was just so crazy. It was like "Toad's Wild Ride."

Once we got into the alfalfa field we were right in front of this battle. We got bogged down and the driver of the Humvee towing us was trying to get rid of us. He was trying to like just, I think shake us loose as if we were a fish that was too big and you had to get him off your fish line and he couldn't do it. He was backing up, ramming forward, backing up, and finally we're screaming at him, just take the tow bar off. Leave us.

MCWINNIE: We went through the wall and then you run across the field and then you go run into this ditch. There was antiaircraft guns and stuff like that in positions. You have to take those out because they look unmanned but obviously there was someone there five minutes ago and the policy is if you hear gunshots you go, you hit back like ten times harder than they're hitting at you. So, I'm standing in this ditch and this guy is like rattling his gun off and the guy next to me is rattling the gun off. It's pretty chaotic.

SAVIDGE: We saw quite a few dead people. Now, whether they were all soldiers it's hard to tell. Looking at bodies, seeing a life that was and knowing that that was somebody's baby that had been held in their mother's arms regardless of how old they are now, somebody who had dreams, somebody who has probably a family, someone who has people wondering what happened to him and he's laying at the side of the road and we're just driving by.

And then many times I wanted to really show you the grotesqueness of it, the physical deformity and the savagery of what it does to the human form because it might make people think twice about doing it.



(NEWSBREAK) BROWN: The fall of Baghdad, one image said it all, as the statue toppled over cheers of jubilation, but the euphoria of that one moment did not last long. Soon, Baghdad descended into anarchy. Law and order for the most part was non-existent. Looting was epidemic. Nothing seemed sacred or safe.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour was on the ground in those first frantic and desperate days after Saddam.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I arrived in Baghdad about 24 hours to the minute after that statue of Saddam Hussein was pulled down in Ferdo (ph) Square.

It was an extraordinary sight for one who had covered Iraq in the past to see the center of the city teaming with American tanks and Marines. People were pleased obviously, gratified, to see the end of the hated, loathed tyranny.

But what disappointed them and made them afraid all over again was the outbreak of violence and looting. There were the obvious targets of looters, the palaces, which you could account for people's revenge, people's wanting to take it out on the regime who spent so lavishly on themselves while the people suffered so horrendously under the Saddam regime.

There were the ministries again, you could account revenge for that, and people would come up to us in tears and tell us that the hospital had been looted. Doctors would be almost crying, in fact some were, that they couldn't get staff to come because the staff were too afraid.

We went to the Baghdad version of the CDC, which is a public health research lab. Vials of samples containing potentially infectious diseases were simply stolen or dumped or liberated into the environment by people who wanted the fridges or the air-conditioning units. It was wild that first week.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The images you are seeing on television you are seeing over and over and over and it's the same picture of some person walking out of some building with a vase and you see it 20 times and you think my goodness were there that many vases? Is it possible that there were that many vases in the whole country?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The words anarchy and lawlessness are ill chosen.

RUMSFELD: Absolutely.

AMANPOUR: I did not know what the secretary of defense was talking about. Clearly he hadn't been on the ground because everything that we saw and everything that our colleagues saw and everything that the Marines saw and the soldiers saw confirmed a massive citywide orgy of looting, and that was the fact, and even the Marines that we spoke to, even the soldiers we spoke to were quite stunned by what they had seen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, I figured I'd let them have at it. The only other way I could have stopped it was to start using force and it wasn't, I'm not going to start using force on these people. I think they've had enough of that.

AMANPOUR: The reason that it wasn't stopped was, a) because they didn't anticipate it; but, b) they didn't have enough troops. That's not a secret. They simply didn't have enough troops to put by every hospital, by every ministry, by every valuable installation.

And, let's talk about the National Museum, that was not protected, and after several days of calling and begging and pleading for military protection, only after several days did it arrive. Basically, they hadn't expected it, at least not to that extent and they didn't expect all the Iraqi security organizations to melt away.

But I can tell you one thing, even though they were really pleased and there was a lot of waves and a lot of thumbs-up, the Iraqi people's first week of the presence of American troops was deeply colored and deeply tainted by what happened.



BROWN: In the haste and confusion of war it is easy to cross signals. Potential flashpoints are everywhere, even in cities where the firefight is all but over.

The 101st Airborne nearly found that out the hard way in Najaf, one of the holiest sites to Shia Muslims. As the 101st entered Najaf, a misunderstanding almost erupted into combat.

CNN's Ryan Chilcote and photographer Greg Danilenko were on the scene.


RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The commander says it's time to meet the Shia leader, Grand Ayatollah Sestani (ph) and ask him for his advice on how we should behave in the city.

He says I'm ready for this meeting but you need to secure my home and provide me with security because he was concerned American control hadn't been established. So, the Grand Ayatollah Sestani is in his house halfway down the road from where these soldiers are to the Imam Ali (ph) Mosque, which is probably the most sacred mosque, shrine for Shia Muslims.

Does it make you nervous that you're like so close to the Ali Mosque and you feel like you're tramping on -


CHILCOTE: Yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't want to be invasive with these people here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know and I don't want to trample on their holy ground and I want to respect that as much as I can.

CHILCOTE: No one had told the crowd apparently that the soldiers' intent was just to go down to the Ayatollah Sestani's house to protect him. I'm not even sure that would have been OK with them, but certainly no one had told them that and they thought that the soldiers were going to the mosque.

GREG DANILENKO, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: No matter how grand a force or how grand, you know, the scheme is things go wrong.

CHILCOTE: This perfectly friendly crowd, slightly reserved, all of a sudden just goes berserk in the course of 30 seconds. The crowd starts throwing up barricades, starts chucking rocks, starts, you know, yelling Allah Akbar, you know, saying, you know, no, you now, infidels towards the mosque. And like, you know, all of a sudden, wow, you know, you have people pushing and shoving and just a real flare up of emotion.

DANILENKO: Initially there was just so much chaos it was very hard to read what was going on but after about, you know, a minute or so I was able to see the guys who were trying to keep peace, you know, kind of separate the guys in my own mind who were trying to make trouble. But the majority and officer in charge Colonel Hughes with the 101st Airborne, he was able to read the situation a lot faster. I remember him yelling out smile, keep smiling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They got to understand he wants us here. Smile. Smile.

DANILENKO: He was telling this to 19 or 20-year-old kids who have never been in this environment and I saw a lot of tension. They all get down on one knee and then he says, you know, try and appear, you know, friendly, as friendly as you can, you know, with a weapon.

People in the front rows kind of sat down but not everybody sat down. So, finally he was like let's let them deal with their own mess, you know, and he pulled them out, and I thought that was pretty amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to withdraw, back out of this situation. Let them diffuse it themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get in formation. We got to move. Turn around.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just turn around and go. DANILENKO: And that was kind of breaking the rules because he was putting his own men in danger by making them turn their backs towards the crowd because he couldn't have known what was going to happen but he took that risk and it worked.

CHILCOTE: I think the colonel understood the situation long before they even got to Najaf. I don't know through what training or through what experience but he knew exactly what he was dealing with, trying to adapt to the environment around him.

It was better to lose this battle than to lose the war and with the locals there's a fine line and when you fell, when you're walking into cities and you're not fighting anyone, I think they were getting the impression that maybe there's no limits. But there are limits and they saw that right there. Whoa, there's a limit. Try and go close to the mosque.

DANILENKO: For me it kind of told the stories when the colonel once they started pulling back, he went out towards the crowd, bowed to them, waved, and just walked away kind of, you know, again without saying anything, just saying sorry. We screwed up but no hard feelings, you know, let's do this another time.


BROWN: The military and the media worked together in Iraq like never before but that is not to say there were not some difficult moments, moments of contention. The military didn't always like what was being reported and the media didn't always agree with the restrictions, as CNN's Jason Bellini can attest.


JASON BELLINI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A car came rushing into the compound, someone who had been injured. I happened to be there and so I began shooting this. I knew that they had these injured civilians and I wanted to get this on tape.


BELLINI: We're allowed to be here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to get out of here.

BELLINI: Why is that? I'm an embedded journalist. I'm allowed to be here. The rules are we're allowed to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well we don't like you taking pictures of dying people, now move back.

BELLINI: I'm not showing any dying people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're allowed to be here but you can be over there, OK, now move out of the way. BELLINI: I'm allowed to be here.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back up. Back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're allowed to be over there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're interfering right now. Back up.

BELLINI: I'm not interfering with anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, you are. Back up.

BELLINI: They did not want me to see that image. They thought that that was the wrong image for the public to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just put the camera down.

BELLINI: I'm not putting the camera down. You're all on tape. I'll show this to PAOs. This is on -- I'm allowed to be reporting this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, are you such a ghoul?

BELLINI: I'm not such a ghoul. I'm a journalist and I'm here to report.

The feeling I got right there was that they felt they had something they needed to hide. That was troubling to me trying to do my job and I think that it was also really troubling to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look everybody right here, he does have a right to be here. He's attached to our unit and the Pentagon says he can be here. He has every right to be here so you can't stop him. All right, even better, him seeing this, us helping Iraqis is better for us, all right.


BELLINI: There was a sense of shame there. At that moment they weren't the good guys. They had hurt innocent Iraqis and they knew it. I don't think they realized that in some ways it was good for the public to see that they were helping these civilians, that they were treating them as they would treat their own.



BROWN: Many of them are young fathers, one of them a single mother, and for weeks their families and the country agonized over their condition and their whereabouts, seven American soldiers captured and missing until they appeared on CNN. Their rescue and their first steps of freedom were beamed around the world by Bob Franken and photographer Jerry Simonson. They broke the story of the seven POWs and this is their firsthand account.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The vice president has said Iraq has some POWs and that they will be appearing on Iraqi TV.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am concerned about our troops. We expect them to be treated humanely.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Bob Franken now. He's embedded with the Marines. Bob, do you have new information for us?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're awaiting the arrival of the six here.

It was by accident at the air base that became the first place that the freed POWs were sent to. When I heard that they had discovered these POWs and they had been freed, I just asked are they going to land up there and was told yes, and I said I have to have video of that and was informed that, no, that would violate the rules and I would not be allowed to do that.

We went back and forth for a while and I'm going to have to brag about the argument that I made to the Marines that just got them, and that was to say to the Marines, you have been telling me all week that you can turn on a dime because you're Marines. This is the dime. It got them.

JERRY SIMONSON, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: Bob says grab your camera. We have to go right now. I didn't know where we were going and then he said there's seven American POWs on their way in and as I go, don't miss this shot, you know. You knew instantly it was going to be an important shot.

We get to the airfield and we don't know where they're going to come in on the airfield and there's a lot of -- you know every time choppers come in is that their chopper? Is that their chopper? No, no, no, it's not their chopper.

So then these two choppers land and I'm like is that their chopper? He goes no, that's not their chopper and so it's wheeling down kind of towards us. This guy just grabs me by the shoulder and says get in there, son, that's them.

So, I run up to, you know, it just all kind of happened really quick. I ran up and the first guy comes off and you instantly knew it was him because he had, you know, many days' growth of a beard on him.

FRANKEN: I was allowed as a reporter to be within just a foot or so of them. What was remarkable to me is how un-frightened they looked. What I saw are some people who are probably in their 20s or early 30s with a lot of strength of character. They looked like they had just returned from a football game almost where their side had won.

The first five who got off the plane were literally running, pumping their fists in the air. Only one had his arm in a sling, but he was clearly in good health, big grins on their faces. The other two were hobbling a little bit but, again, they were clearly people who had this huge weight lifted off their shoulders.

SIMONSON: You kind of felt, you know, am I intruding on this moment? These guys have had a really hard time. Am I intruding on this moment? And then there's this one moment where one of them gets up in the truck and they're so happy and they just give me the thumbs- up and then you knew it was OK.

There was five that were in back of one truck, and then the same guy who had grabbed me and told me to get in said there's two more and so I had to sprint a full sprint down to get the female soldier and the other gentleman that were getting in the truck. I was really concerned about getting all seven. I wanted to make sure I got all seven because you knew that people were watching back home and you didn't want to leave somebody out.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Were you able to tell if possibly the woman that you did see was African-American?

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact she was. I was right next to her, did not talk to her.

I knew of her. I could not say for a fact it was her. One of the things you're always mindful of is that her family would be listening back there and I would hate to have been the person who said this is Shoshana and then it turned out it was not. So, all I could do was describe exactly what I was feeling.

When the POWs came off and as they drove down this line to go from their helicopter to the plane that would take them to Kuwait, there was this line of applause. It was just everybody was on Cloud Nine, nobody more so of course than the freed POWs who had gone from a life that they did not know if they'd ever have a life to suddenly freedom again and a return to all the things that they had probably by now considered impossible.

SIMONSON: I could only get one phone up which means you don't have a great connection and it keeps dropping out and it keeps dropping out but I got it up and I said just -- talking to the guy back in Atlanta, just roll tape. Just roll tape. So, I start feeding it in on the camera.

PATTY DAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seven American service members...

SIMONSON: They're like oh this is great stuff and I'm like OK. I'm going to fast forward through it. They go no, no, don't fast forward. You're live. You're live on TV right now. I was like they're showing this stuff live right now and they're like yes. They said just let it roll. Just let it roll.

COLLINS: These are pictures that have come to us from Bob Franken.

SIMONSON: Most of the time during the conflict you're taking images that bring a lot of despair and grief back to people and that's just the reality of what you're doing. But in this particular moment, the images you brought, brought back a lot of joy and happiness and it made you feel good that in just doing your job you were able to shine another emotion other than what war normally brings.


BROWN: Images of joy and celebration, images of firefights, of death, of close calls, of chaos, in short images of war. Snapshots, absolutely, but moments no less compelling, no less dramatic, and no less harrowing for their brevity or immediacy.

As for those who risked their lives to bring the front lines to the home front, it was a unique journalistic experience, exhilarating, and exhausting, and sadly not without consequences.

CNN did not lose any correspondents or crews in the war, thankfully, but other news organizations were not so lucky. It is in the memory of those who died to tell the story that we end our program.


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