Renewed Hope For POW Kin

The Early Show: Athol and Jane Riley
CBS/The Early Show
Watching the taking of Baghdad by American forces with the rest of the world was Athol Riley of Pennsauken, N.J.

"It showed that the mission was accomplishing what it set out to do," Riley said Thursday on The Early Show.

He is the father of Sgt. James Joseph Riley, who was captured in the war's early days when Iraqi forces ambushed an Army supply convoy. He was among the POWs shown on videotape March 23 on Arab television station Al-Jazeera.

The family doesn't know where he is now. And Sgt. Riley, 31, doesn't know that his younger sister, Mary, died March 28 of a rare neurological disorder. The 30-year-old woman had been in a coma since January.

Athol Riley said his family has been getting support from the military.

"We've made suggestions, and they are following up," he said. "One of the suggestions was that perhaps a third party, another country, maybe Syria or some other country in the area, could negotiate for the entrance of the Red Crescent or the Red Cross to verify the condition and location of the prisoners."

The rescue last week of POW Jessica Lynch gave hope to families like the Rileys.

Said Theresa Rowland, whose best friend Shawna Johnson is also a prisoner of war, "When we heard that a POW had been rescued, we were all, 'Shawna, Shawna,' and then we found out that it was Jessica Lynch, and we were a little down. But then you can't be down for long, because you have to be happy. Her family didn't even know anything about her. And now they have closure because they've got their daughter back. And that's great. And I'm very happy for the Lynch family."

Rowland said the Johnsons "are going to have the same type of reunion."

Riley and Johnson of El Paso, Texas are two of the five captured soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Squadron out of Fort Bliss, Texas. The others are Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission; Spc. Joseph Neal Hudson, 23, of Alamogordo, N.M.; and Pfc. Patrick Wayne Miller, 23, of Walter, Kan.

"Every day I just write a little something to Shawna telling her things that have happened," said Rowland. "How things are going, that I'm thinking about her and praying for her to come back soon, as well as the rest."

Athol Riley says his son, a machinist who enlisted in the Army after high school and has been in the service 12 years, is doing what he always wanted to do.

"It was his goal in life, and he fulfilled that goal," he said, noting that his son knew the job had risks. "He considered that part of his job."

Riley's other sister, 22 year-old Katherine, said her brother "is very strong. Stubborn. Stubborn is the main word there. Nice. He can be nice. I mean he would have his own thing. Or he would make fun of me."

She called him a typical older brother and said she believes those qualities will help him endure the ordeal he is going through right now.

Johnson comes from a military family. Her father, Claude Johnson, is an Army retiree; he served 20 years and was in Desert Storm, says a sister, Erika Johnson.

"He could pretty much tell us what is going on out there. And what my sister saw. And what's going on," Erika said. "And my other sister Nikki, she's a captain in the Army. So she can pretty much tell us about the military mind and what my sister may be thinking or what her actions were at the time. Or maybe right now."

Rowland remembers when Johnson first learned she would be shipped out. "When she first told me that she was getting deployed, I was like, 'No, you can't be getting deployed.' I said, 'You're a cook.' And she said, 'I'm a soldier first.' And that said it all. She's a soldier first," Rowland said.

Capt. Nikki Johnson had this advice is for her sister: "Use her military training to the best of her ability, and basically just to stay strong, and be the person that she is, and she'll get through it."

While folks at Fort Bliss, Texas, still strongly support the war in Iraq, news that some of their own are being held prisoner sent a chill through the desert town.

Army Spec. Joseph Hudson, 23, from New Mexico was the first prisoner of war to be identified. His mother, Anecita Hudson, appealed to President Bush for help.

"I hope the President of the United States will do something about the people that have been captured. I want him to get them out," she said.

To her plea, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said, "Every resource of the United States military is dedicated toward protecting those who serve."

Mrs. Hudson, 53, found out her son was captured when she saw TV footage of him being questioned by his Iraqi captors.

"It's kind of a shock today for me to see him," Mrs. Hudson said to The Early Show correspondent Tracy Smith.

Hudson's mother said her son identified himself on the video but didn't give any more information. She said he appeared to be uninjured, unlike some of the others in the video.

"It's like a bad dream, seeing your son get captured on TV," she said. Mrs. Hudson, who is of Filipino ancestry, said she saw the footage on a Filipino station she subscribes to.

Amid the pain of seeing her son in captivity, Mrs. Hudson admitted there also was relief that he was alive.

Thomas Hershberger, the half-brother of 23-year-old Pfc. Patrick Miller from Kansas, another soldier held captive in Iraq, wants the United States to finish the war "as fast as possible" so his brother can come home.

Miller's sister said, "I know in my heart he'll come home. My brother's a fighter and always has been."