EL PASO, Texas - A military transport plane carrying seven former U.S. prisoners of war landed Saturday at Fort Bliss to cheers from flag-waving family and friends, a week after they were rescued.
Thousands of well-wishers hoisted American flags and burst into cheers as a C-17 loaded on a wind-swept runway. Two servicemen emerged from a hatch on the plane, holding an American flag and waving to the crowd as the plane taxied.
Five of the former POWs are stationed with the U.S. Army's 507th Maintenance Company. Two other Apache helicopter crewmen, who are with the First Cavalry Division, will continue to their home base at Fort Hood.
The seven were rescued April 13 after Iraqi captors abandoned their posts ahead of advancing American troops.
El Paso Mayor Raymond Caballero said there will be a big parade for the five soldiers from the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, but not until "the time is appropriate."
"We don't want to get in their lives until they're ready for it," Caballero said. "But they also understand that people are very happy to have them back."
The Fort Bliss soldiers were captured and nine comrades were killed in an attack near Nasiriyah on March 23. Another member of the 507th, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was rescued separately in a daring commando raid April 1 and continues to recuperate in Washington, D.C.
Returning to Fort Bliss on Saturday were Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, Mission, Texas; Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, Alamogordo, N.M.; Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, El Paso; Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, Park City, Kan., and Sgt. James Riley, 31, Pennsauken, N.J.
El Paso was awash in yellow ribbons, but the ribbons at the northeast El Paso home of Johnson's parents were purple, her favorite color.
Neighbor Tina Banston visited briefly because her 6-year-old daughter, Delaney, wanted to give a teddy bear to Johnson's 2-year-old daughter.
"I'm almost in tears because this is so exciting," Banston said. "We've all gone through so much just worrying about her."
The Fort Hood soldiers rescued are Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando, Fla., and Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., 26, of Lithia Springs, Ga. The Apache helicopter pilots were forced down in Iraq on March 24.
They were to arrive the same day Richard Anderson, an 18-year-old Pizza Hut employee, had planned for days to hold a rally in support of U.S. troops in the Fort Hood-area community of Killeen. More than 20 people held up signs and flags outside the restaurant Saturday morning.
"We had no idea they were coming back. It's just a great thing to happen," Anderson said.