April 14, 2003
Their long weeks of waiting over, their prayers finally answered, families of seven captured U.S. soldiers laughed and cried with unbridled joy Sunday as they celebrated word that their loved ones had been released in Iraq.
"Greatest day of my life," Ronald Young Sr. said, beaming, as he and his wife, Kaye, watched a choppy CNN video of their son, helicopter pilot Ronald Jr., running to an aircraft that whisked the rescued prisoners of war out of danger after 22 days in captivity.
"I'm just so happy that I could kiss the world!" added the elder Young. "When I saw him, it was like somebody had won the World Series. Everybody was jumping around and hollering."
Kaye Young laughed with glee at images of her grinning, 26-year-old son as neighbors delivered food and flowers to their home in Lithia Springs, Ga. An American flag hung on the front door and yellow ribbons were tied to trees outside.
At other homes of POW families, friends and relatives also crowded in, shook hands and hugged one another. Outside, others waved American flags and blasted car horns.
"I feel that my heart wants to burst out of my chest," Maria De La Luz Hernandez said in Spanish after learning her son, Edgar, was free. "I'm going to have a heart attack here with so much happiness."
At Fort Hood, Texas, the family of the second rescued helicopter pilot, 30-year-old David S. Williams, was smiling as well.
"I've always remained positive," said his father, David Williams Sr., who was with his son's wife, Michelle, and their two children. "When you believe in God as I do and my son does, you know he will come back home safely."
Spc. Joseph Hudson's mother, Anecita, received first word about her son early Sunday from her sister in Okinawa. "I am so happy I didn't even put my hair up, but I don't care," Anecita Hudson said.
For three weeks, the POW families waited. The gnawing sense of anguish deepened when the soldiers, several of them looking frightened, appeared on Iraqi television. That week, stores in Sgt. James Riley's hometown of Pennsauken, N.J., where he had enlisted straight from high school, sold out of yellow ribbons.
"It's just an emotional roller coaster and we're just happy he's safe," said Riley's mother, Jane, who had just returned from church services when an Army major arrived with the news.
In Texas, the family of Spc. Shoshana Johnson, the only woman among the seven, released a statement. "We thank God for watching over them. We are grateful for all the worldwide prayers," said her father, Claude Johnson.