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Families gear up for return of seven POWs

Associated Press

ALAMOGORDO, N.M. — The daily vigil in front of the TV set has ended happily for the former POWs’ families and friends. Now, the talk is of the joyous reunions to come and the celebrations to plan.

Like hometowns for the six other former POWs picked up Sunday by U.S. forces, Alamogordo plans parades, cheers and hero’s welcomes for Army Spc. Joseph Hudson.

“I think a parade would be great idea,” Mayor Don Carroll said. “People are already talking about it. It’s just a matter of figuring out when they’re coming home.”

The seven former prisoners were rescued Sunday by U.S. forces on the road to Tikrit, Iraq, and are now in Kuwait. The military has not said when they will be flying home.

Light poles along the main street of Hudson’s hometown are adorned with yellow ribbons, and many business marquees carry messages of thanks and encouragement for American troops.

“It’s huge,” said Peter Schmidt, a Dairy Queen owner who wants to help pitch in for a celebration. “For him to have gone through what he did and serve our country the way he did — we want to honor him.”

At the Alamogordo Wal-Mart, there’s been a rush on American flag pins and yellow ribbons. “I’ve seen everybody picking them up,” said Diego Casillas, an assistant manager.

Students at the elementary school across the street from the Hudson home made a sign saying “We’re praying for Joseph” and the school changed its marquee to “Welcome back, Joseph Hudson.”

“Okey-dokey,” Anecita Hudson said when asked how she was faring amid the commotion and celebration. Still, she was clearly exhausted, taking time for extended naps and gingerly walking from one celebration to another.

Another former POW, Army Sgt. James Riley, might not be so pleased to become the star of a parade, firework display and community celebration being discussed in Pennsauken, N.J.

Riley’s family said he is so private that he doesn’t like it when his mother snaps a photograph of him, let alone the news photographers and videographers he’ll undoubtedly face when he comes home.

Maj. Nathan Banks, the military’s liaison to Riley’s family, said Riley and the other POWs will be taken to Washington’s Walter Reed Medical Center, and will be released according to their health conditions.

The joy for U.S. Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, spread as far as Panama. Although she has never returned to the country since emigrating to the United States with her family at age 6, excitement at the rescue was infectious. “Miracle!” read one headline; “Shoshana Lives!” read another.

When 19-year-old Pfc. Jessica Lynch returns to Palestine, W.Va., she’ll get more than just a party. College scholarships, a trip to Hawaii, new cars and cash are just some of the gifts waiting for the former POW rescued April 1.

Relatives can’t wait for the soldiers to come home.

Hudson’s wife, Natalie, and his 19-year-old brother, Anthony, were briefed by military officials at Fort Bliss, Texas, and the two plan to travel to meet the former POW before he returns to New Mexico.

Packed among her things for the reunion, Natalie said, is a blue teddy bear that she bought after their 5-year-old daughter, Cameron, suggested it. Blue is Joseph’s favorite color.

She said officials gave them information about what Hudson will undergo as a returning prisoner of war. That includes a military debriefing and the mental and emotional process of reintegration after the trauma of being held prisoner, she said.

When Chief Warrant Officer David Williams gets home, his wife will be waiting to listen. Michelle Williams finally heard her husband’s voice Sunday over the phone at her home in Killeen, Texas.