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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

POWs Return Home

Aired April 19, 2003 - 22:17   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What a night it has been, continuing, looking at those live pictures. Fort Bliss, Texas. Fort Bliss, the name seems very appropriate tonight. So much happiness there as seven Americans, seven soldiers, seven heroes finally home. After weeks in captivity, several days journey back from Iraq, they have returned home finally just moments ago.
We're going to continue looking at this live picture on the lefthand side of the screen. I want to show you their return, which occurred just moments ago. A crowd dispersing somewhat there on the lefthand side. But now on the righthand side, this is just a few seconds ago, as the C-17 opened up, it was something of a confused scene, but I believe, at least the first -- former POW I saw, Specialist Joseph Hudson. There he was off running into the arms of his family. One can only imagine what the feeling was.

Then the others came off. There you see Chief Warrant Officer David Williams, who will be quickly returning to Fort Hood, along with the other Chief Warrant Officer. And one by one, they quickly came off and were mobbed by the crowd of family who had been bussed in just moments before.

On the lefthand side, let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...the soldiers at Fort Bliss, we're happy as can be that everybody's back safe and sound. This is the first five of our more than 4,000 Fort Bliss soldiers that are deployed to a theater, back home safe and sound. They're in great spirits. They look healthy, mentally and physically. We're going to spend the next couple days evaluating them, reacquainting them with their families. Hopefully they'll have a great Easter. And we're glad as heck that they're back here with us. So Mr. Mayor, I'm going to turn this back over to you and say thanks again for the El Paso reception, first class.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: General, we couldn't have given them any other kind of reception. Thank you very much. As you can see, this tremendous crowd, all this enthusiasm. And this true all over town. Whether they were here or not, we celebrate the return of these troops. And we await the return, I hope soon, general, of the 3,900 and some odd that we have over in Iraq. And we hope we give a number of welcomes, and they come home safe and sound.

When these troops, general, recuperate and get fed and get happy and see their families again, we hope that we can give them the official welcome. You just give us the word and I know that this community's ready to turn out and give them one heck of a welcome home. Thank you, general.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's your name again, general?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lennox, General Lennox.

COOPER: You've just been listening to General Lennox.

COL. GLEN MITCHELL, CMDR., WILLIAM BEAUMONT ARMY MEDICAL CENTER: Want to update you for a second. I'm Colonel Glen Mitchell. I'm the commander at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. I just got a brief look at them and was able to talk to the medical crew from the trip over. And they all did very well on a long trip. They're in great shape.

My medical teams inside are now going over them, just to screen them, to make sure they're all medically safe to be with their families over the weekend. We're hoping that we don't have to admit any of them to the hospital. And it looks as if they're going to be in great shape. We'll know a little better here in probably about 30 or 45 minutes, when my medical folks get through with the screening, but they are in great shape and great spirits, and did well on the flight over.

So we are just truly happy. They seem to have gotten back to us in just excellent shape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Colonel, is that what's going on right now? They're being evaluated?

MITCHELL: That's correct. They're with their families right at the moment, but as we -- we're going to take them out a couple at a time here to go over them. Our doctors are going over their medical charts right now. We're just going to do a little check of temperature or blood pressure or the usual stuff, look at their wounds, and make sure that they're all safe to be able to spend the rest of the weekend with their families before they do more medical work-ups starting Monday morning at the medical center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long before they're allowed to go off the base?

MITCHELL: At this point, they're -- they are in the stages of their evaluation and work-up That should take between two and four days during the week, next week. Depends on how many of their tests have already been performed at Landstuhl. We'll be looking through the records to verify that -- what tests have been done. And we'll be completing their work-ups here, completing their wound care. And we'll be letting them hopefully take some much needed leave as soon as we're through with our medical screening and work-ups.

Thank you very much.

COOPER: And you are looking on the righthand side, on the big part of your screen. There, you see are Shoshana Johnson, standing up, shot through both ankles, waving the American flag and I believe what appears to be the Panamanian flag. I believe part of her family is from Panama, which is why I believe she's waving that, if I am correct in believing that's the Panamian flag.

She is now -- let's listen in.

(SINGING "GOD BLESS AMERICA")

COOPER: Certainly a song that seems very appropriate at this moment.

There you see on the righthand side of your screen the video images taken about 10 minutes or so ago, as one by one, the former POWs were brought into this cart. Shoshana Johnson, the first one, as we've mentioned, shot once, but through both ankles. There she is, shaking hands, hugging her family. Her father was in the crowd, her other relatives. She was actually able to stand briefly, waved to the crowd, waved some flags. She is now seated there. And these images, as we said, taken moments ago, seated in the back seat of this cart.

And slowly, one by one, the other former POWs broke away from their families. They went and sat in the cart, one by one with them. And then they were brought by the crowd, passed around the crowd, as people applauded.

And there you see on the lefthand side of your screen, still the live image, still the crowd, waving, watching, talking to their friends, their families on the phones, talking about what they saw.

And what struck me, I think most, and probably a lot of viewers watching, all the family members taking pictures themselves, still pictures, video pictures, wanting to capture for themselves this remarkable moment, this remarkable moment not only in their family's lives, but in the lives of the country.

There you see Specialist Joseph Hudson also sitting next to Shoshana Johnson. Specialist Hudson, one of the people who when the plane first landed, that C-17 landed, suddenly two figures popped up out the top hatch with a giant American flag waving in the breeze.

There you also see the other former POW, Sergeant James Riley, Private First Class Patrick Miller, Specialist Edgar Hernandez. The other two former POWs, Chief Warrant Officer Ronald Young of Lithia Springs, Georgia, also Chief Warrant Officer David Williams have by this time -- by the time you see these images, they have already walked to an area where they are going to catch another flight, because Fort Hood, of course, not their home base. Excuse me, Fort Bliss not their home base. Fort Hood is their home base. And they are catching another flight. And understandably, after they said their good-byes to their former POW brothers and sisters, they headed toward their flights so that they could have their reunions at Fort Hood, their reunions with their family and loved ones.

And there you see it. Five American heroes returning home.

Ed Lavandera, who has been covering this all day long has been also watching this return. Ed, as we continue to look at these pictures of the five former POWs waving with both hands smiling, what went through your mind?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, I've been here since March 23, when the news of what had happened to the 507th Maintenance Company first broke. And you know, we spent quite a bit of time out here, not only talking to several of the family members that have been waiting for this very moment.

But you know, the one thing that I can't get out of my mind is when we were here just a week and a half ago, doing the memorial service, covering the memorial service for the nine soldiers that were killed in action from this group, several people on several occasions mentioned to me that they didn't want to have to go through that experience again. And still, the news at that point hadn't broken about -- that these five POWs had been found alive, but several people I talked to, just I remember them saying to me, we don't want to do this again. We -- it's just too much to handle. The next time we gather like this, we want to celebrate a homecoming. And so, I remember, can't get those soldiers out of my mind who were telling me that. And that perhaps that wish, that dream had come true here this evening.

And it's -- you know, but very much, is there's a lot of celebration here tonight. The -- one of the public affairs officers that we've gotten to know here so well over the last four weeks said to me, this is the most incredible thing he's ever seen. And that's coming from a sergeant who has spent quite a bit of time in the U.S. military, a fascinating moment for them to watch.

I think a lot of the military personnel that were here on this tarmac, and had made -- helped organized this evening, helped it come together, were taken aback when Joseph Hudson and Patrick Miller popped out of the top of the C-17 aircraft there, waving an American flag and waving to the crowd. You know, you could really sense that the amount of emotion that had been welling up in a lot of people's hearts here over the last several weeks.

COOPER: Yes. And Ed, we are showing that picture right now. This is the picture when they first landed. Interesting to point out when the plane took from Ramstein Air Base earlier this morning, it was the two chief warrant officers, the two Apache pilots who did this exact thing. They waved the flag. That of course Ronald Young and David Williams.

Here, appropriately enough, as the C-17 returned to Fort Bliss, it was two members of the 507th, Private First Class Patrick Miller, as well as Specialist Joseph Hudson. Joseph Hudson's the one waving there. What a picture that -- if you're wondering what the front pages of the papers are going to be tomorrow morning, I suspect that is the picture right there, a picture that kind of says it all.

Ed, we should also point out, you mentioned how this is so closely watched, not only in the Fort Bliss community, but around the country. This is really being watched...

LAVANDERA: I'm sorry.

COOPER: Go ahead, Ed.

LAVANDERA: No, no, I was -- I'm sorry we broke up there and I couldn't hear the last part of what you'd said?

COOPER: Oh, no, I was saying that this is something, an event being launched really around the world. One interesting point to point out, Shoshana Johnson was actually born in Panama. And Panamanians have really embraced this story, really followed the story, not only of her capture, but of her return, her rescue, very, very closely. I just got an e-mail that one of the Panamian papers had a headline "Shoshana Lives." That was "El Sigler" newspaper as well as "Miracle!" in "The Critica Daily," two Panamian papers.

So this is an event, and as we saw when Shoshana Johnson landed, when she was lifted off the stretcher, stood on her own weight very briefly, she waved two flags there. You see the image there. She's about to wave those flags, an American flag and a Panamian flag, a story and a moment watched around the world. There was a happiness in a lot of people's hearts tonight.

LAVANDERA: Anderson, if I could, I'd like to add to that...

COOPER: Ed, go ahead.

LAVANDERA: On Sunday night when I interview Nicky Johnson, Shoshana's sister, we had done an interview with Nicky when this -- when the 507 had first been captured. And one of the things that Nicky had said to us is that her sister's always been able to get out of the toughest situations, and always been able to overcome the toughest lots in life.

And one of the things she also added was she always seemed to have an angel on her shoulder, overlooking her, watching out over here. And one of the first things that Shoshana had said when she first called home last Sunday, was that she had been able to hear, now it's exactly clear when she heard that interview, but she said that she was able to see on CNN the comments that her sister had made.

And she gave her sister, Nicky, a hard time, saying well I sure didn't have an angel looking out after me on March 23, describing what has been described to us as a very vicious fire fight that night that the soldiers were able to survive somehow.

COOPER: Well, she did survive. She made it through, so perhaps that angel was there with her.

And again, we're seeing these pictures that are taken moments ago. There's Shoshana Johnson sitting. You can also see some of the other others, Private First Class Hudson was -- or Specialist Joseph Hudson was just in the lefthand side of the screen.

There you see the two chief warrant officers, who are actually going to Fort Bliss. Ronald Young, as well as David Williams. That Ronald Young there. David Williams just left the screen. You almost feel bad for them. Their family wasn't there in Fort Hood. They were in Fort Bliss, I should say. They were of course embraced by many of the other former POWs family members.

I imagine the former POWs feel something of a family bond -- what -- given what they have gone through together over the last three weeks, four weeks now, at times, held separately in separate cells, yet a bond nevertheless. They could communicate nevertheless.

Ed Lavandera, go ahead.

LAVANDERA: No, when we first saw this shot, you're watching the shot of the soldiers being driven around the crowd here with the golf cart. But you know, Joseph Hudson was one of the ones that popped out of the top of the C-17. And he also jumped out and was very animated as he was driven around in that golf cart. Clearly, one of the soldiers showing the most emotion, at least visibly. And I know that it's -- to say that he showed the most is not fair at all, but at least visibly there showing an incredible amount of excitement for being home.

He lives about an hour and a half north of El Paso. And his family's undergone a very difficult time as well. His wife Natalie and his mother Anecita desperate for this day to come at home -- for him to be able to come home as well and being able to hug in here tonight is another dream come true for them.

You see him there on the right. He was incredibly fun to watch as he drove past our vantage point, as he was waving and cheering, just -- you could just see the excitement on his face. It was a true pleasure.

COOPER: Yes, a pleasure it certainly was, and it continues to be as we look at these images. And no doubt, we'll be looking at these images for the next days to come.

Important to keep in mind, there are still not only so many troops and Marines in the field, there are more than 4,000 soldiers from Fort Bliss still in the region, still in Iraq. And of course, there are still Americans missing in action. And our thoughts and our prayers are with them, as we are happy for the return of these former POWs, we -- they'll think about those still in harm's way and still missing at this moment.

Some families no doubt watching this, happy -- but a bittersweet happiness as their loved ones have not yet returned home, as perhaps they have no word of their loved ones.

Want to bring in, as we continue to look at these images, just to get an idea, sort of, what the future holds for the POWs back home here in America, it might help to look at the history of POWs, who returned home from the first Gulf War.

In 1991, Army Staff Sergeant -- I'm sorry, someone was speaking in my ear -- Daniel Stamaris was in a Blackhawk helicopter shot down by the Iraqis. Five of his soldiers died. He was badly injured in the crash, beaten by his captors. We are pleased, he joins on the phone now from Headland, Alabama.

Daniel, thanks for being with us. I assume you saw the homecoming. What went through your mind?

DANIEL STAMARIS, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Oh, just -- it's awesome. I'll admit that I had tears in my eyes. And it just was wonderful thing to see them.

COOPER: Yes. It certainly is. And the picture we're looking right now is of Ronald Young of Lithia Springs, Georgia, as he walks to the other plane that is going to be waiting to take him and David Williams to Fort Hood for another reunion.

Daniel, it was actually March 5, I believe, that you were returned on. So a little bit -- very close to an anniversary of sorts. Do you think about that moment often? Do you think about your time in captivity still to this day a lot?

STAMARIS: Occasionally, but more so as of late because of what's been going on over there with these POWs that have returned now. And it just kind of brings to the forefront a lot more. And especially since then, a lot of people have been calling me for interviews like this and what not. And it just...

COOPER: Do you like talking about it? I mean, does it -- is it a good thing to talk about it? Or do you kind of wish to let it go?

STAMARIS: It's good therapy. It's good to talk about it. I can share the experiences of what happened to me. And I even talk some to a lot of the soldiers down here at Fort Rutger base that I work on right now. It -- I think I can help others to hear the stories, so they know what to expect. God forbid, if they ever have to go through something like that.

COOPER: Now Daniel, not just so I'm correct, you still work at the base, but you are a civilian employed at base, is that correct?

STAMARIS: Yes, yes, I am.

COOPER: Do you still work on helicopters?

STAMARIS: I'm actually a program manager now. I don't actually work on -- I don't turn wrenches any more.

COOPER: OK, all right, understandable. When you went down, you -- I believe you injured your legs, you shattered your pelvis. I can only imagine what kind of pain you were in for the four days that you were held captive. How long a process of recovery did it take, both physical and otherwise?

STAMARIS: I was in Walter Reed for six to seven weeks, going through some extensive therapy. And they were putting me back together. I had to relearn how to walk and pretty strenuous situation for me and everything, but I got better as time when by. And that was the good thing. I actually was held prisoner for about seven days, but we were in -- I was there for an eighth day in Baghdad because they couldn't get us out of Baghdad because of sandstorms. And so I spent the night in a hotel they -- under the control of the international Red Cross.

COOPER: I've talked to a couple of wives of former POWs from the first Gulf War who said that they really weren't aware of what kind of an impact this would have on their loved one. And that the journey home, while at one sort of an end to their long journey, it was the beginning of another kind of journey. How tough is the transition? And what's your advice to the families of those who are returning this evening?

STAMARIS: Oh, the families themselves need to allow the individual to -- you've probably heard this time and time again, to decompress from their experiences. They went through a traumatic experience where basically all their freedoms and rights were taken away from them. And they didn't know what to expect from moment to moment, let alone day to day. It's just very -- let them talk.

I know when we came back, it's something that the medical personnel really -- they really -- what's the word -- they just really wanted us to talk about what happened, open up and talk about it, to try to get it out in the open, so that we can deal with it better. And that's why I say that talk about it is good therapy.

COOPER: Do people who haven't been there, who haven't served, do they get it? I mean, do -- can anyone really understand what you -- what the others, what these men and women have gone through?

STAMARIS: I'm not going to say no, because there's probably been some circumstances people in our country have been through, where they've been in a situation where they were not in somebody else's controlling the situation for them.

But if in some type of aspect like that, I think they could understand it. But for the most part, most people really don't know what it would be like. I mean, we live in a free society in the United States. And to lose freedom is to be taken away like that is just something that most people don't have to deal with.

COOPER: Do -- the care that you received, not so much the medical care, because I imagine that was good, what sort of counseling did you receive, if you feel like talking about? If you don't, I certainly understand and just tell me to move on. But what sort of a process was it?

STAMARIS: Oh, they just would come in periodically and talk to me, and mostly wanted me to talk about what happened at the time. Went on, you know, I'm not sure how often they came in there. Like I said, I was in the hospital for 67 weeks at Walter Reed. But it was just something that they -- they'd just come in there and start talking to you, and try to get you to relax, and just open up to them a little bit about what happened, what's your feelings, and stuff like that. COOPER: All right, well, Daniel Stamaris, former sergeant, appreciate you joining us. It was glad to hear your perspective on this evening, this happy occasion for not only seven families in America, but many Americans and many people around the world who are watching. Appreciate you joining us, Daniel. Thanks very much.

STAMARIS: Thank you. And I just want to say, God bless America.

COOPER: All right, glad you said it, Daniel. Thanks a lot.

We are going to go back to Ed Lavandera, who is still at Fort Bliss, Texas, as he has been really throughout the day. Ed, what's the situation there now?

LAVANDERA: Well, the situation here is starting to calm down. As you heard, I think if you've been with CNN for the last half or so, the former prisoners of war have been taken inside this deployment center here building, where they continue to meet with their families. And they're also being checked out by medical personnel, continuing the medical testing to figure out exactly what they're going to need over the next couple of days, perhaps the weeks ahead, as they move forward in recovery here as well.

And so, but of course, the most important part right now is that cherished and most valuable time, just being able to talk and hear from your family. Many of these soldiers -- the last I'd heard, the last they'd been able to really speak with the families with their loved ones was the brief phone calls on Sunday, when they had been rescued by the Marines just north of Baghdad.

So this is a time for reflective conversation, and conversation that is a long time in the coming, very exciting for these families. Anderson, I also wanted to add to what you were talking about before, about how these former prisoners of war move forward and how they deal with what they've been through.

I was talking to Shoshana Johnson's father just a few days ago. And he says that the way they're going to handle Shoshana is just her talk. Whenever she wants to bring up anything that has happened over the last three or four weeks, that it would be up her, that they're not going to press her into making -- you know, talking about exactly what happened, reliving exactly what happened, especially on the night of March 23. So very much on their time table as to how they want to share their experiences with their families.

And they think that's the best way of moving forward, and helping at least Shoshana -- in Shoshana's case, being able to help her out and moving forward in life.

COOPER: Yes, it'll be interesting to hear perhaps we'll hear tomorrow, but whether or not Private First Class Jessica Lynch, who of course is at Walter Reed, and is from the 507th Maintenance Company, whether she was watching this return. Somehow I imagined she was. And I can only imagine what her reaction -- what her hospital room is like on this evening. It must be a special place to be.

Ed, do we know -- have the other two -- have the pilots from Fort Hood, have they taken off yet?

LAVANDERA: I've been trying to figure that out as we've been standing here, waiting for you to come back to us, Anderson. And I'm not exactly sure yet at this point. You know, we saw in the shot earlier how they kind of moved off to the righthand side of the screen. And in all the confusion, I lost track of some of the soldiers. So I'm not exactly sure where they ended up. And I haven't seen any other aircraft take off or leave from this tarmac area. So I'm not exactly sure if they've left yet, but I've been trying to figure that out as we speak. They are inside, I'm told, actually.

COOPER: Oh, they are inside the aircraft, you're told?

LAVANDERA: Yes.

COOPER: OK.

LAVANDERA: No, no, they are inside the building here, being checked out by the medical personnel.

COOPER: Oh, OK. So where are the -- all seven of them now are in the same structure. And are there -- do we know what's going on? I know some of their family members are there, some doctors are there. Do we know what the process is?

LAVANDERA: Well, I imagine as they're -- from what they said just a -- short while ago, they're taking turns checking them out. And that gives certain soldiers a little bit of time to meet with their family members as well, while other soldiers are being checked out.

All indications are, is that Shoshana Johnson is the one that perhaps might need the most medical attention. She was shot in each leg. There have been some shots where you've been able to see her walk under her own power. We also know that when she arrived in Kuwait, and perhaps in Germany as well, she's undergone some rounds of surgery. That's what her father has told me. They wanted to clear up some infection from what he was told. And perhaps that's why we saw her brought off in the stretcher here this evening.

So her condition, perhaps, might be the most serious at all. But as you've heard the folks here say, everyone seems to be in great shape.

COOPER: Shoshana Johnson, her father was I think as you mentioned a Gulf War veteran. Did that give him a different perspective, a special perspective on what was going on with his daughter?

LAVANDERA: Well, you know, I asked him that. And you know, he's -- he was very stoic in the way he answered some of this questions, but his daughter told me that you know, you might be a Gulf War veteran, but when it's daughter, that's -- you know, you're a dad first, a veteran second. So I think perhaps some of that might have gone out the window. And I know his -- her mother was quite emotional at times as well, and had a hard time dealing with some of the time there between her being rescued.

But I think her -- from what her sister told me, you know, Mr. Johnson was very much a father first and a soldier second.

COOPER: All right, Ed Lavandera just mentioning to us that the two pilots, the Apache pilots who will be heading to Fort Hood as soon as possible, I assume, we are told they were to get off the aircraft at Fort Bliss, change aircraft. Apparently, they were receiving some sort of medical attention right now, or some sort of discussions, or perhaps just spending some time with their former -- other former POWs. But they will be heading to Fort Hood.

And that's where we're going to check in right now with our Susan Candiotti, who is standing by. Susan, what is the scene there?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're starting to feel more of the excitement build here, because we know it wasn't too long ago we assume when both pilots, both Apache pilots, Ronald Young and David Williams we think might be airborne now, because we're expecting them to arrive about midnight or so Eastern time.

But now some of the soldiers here are starting to move into place. These are all part of the 4th Aviation Brigade. This the same unit to which both Ronald Young and David Williams belong.

Dave Williams, you may recall, is the one soldier seemed to take charge of the former POW group once they were released. And now Ronald Young and he will be jetting their way here, landing here to a hero's welcome as well from all of these people.

And over here, they're setting up at a podium here, also to receive them. The governor of the state will be here. Of course, their immediate families will be here. Dave William's wife has two children. Ronald Young's parents and his brothers and sisters, nine of them in all. So it's sure to be an exciting time.

Joining us now is the wife of one -- another Apache pilot. Her name is Summer Stauffer. Your husband, Matthew, is still serving overseas at this time. You felt it important to be here this night, why?

SUMMER STAUFFER, PILOT'S WIFE: The vampires have become a close family network. And we thought that it would be in the best interests of our husbands to represent them, and also to let Ron and Dave know that we stand behind them. We're excited they're home. We're elated, we're overwhelmed. We're just glad to be here.

CANDIOTTI: Part of you must still -- must be awfully worried about your husband as well. At the same time, things seem to be easing up a little bit over there in Iraq. Do you have any idea what you're husband's been doing lately, and when he'll be coming home?

STAUFFER: I have no idea to either of those questions. I hope soon and he's fine.

CANDIOTTI: When's the last time you spoke with him?

STAUFFER: Five weeks.

CANDIOTTI: What do you make of all the welcome ceremony here, everything that is being done on behalf of all the former POWs?

STAUFFER: I think that they'll probably want to spent time with their families. I'm very excited that there's this much support. I'm pretty sure they'll be relieved to be home on their home territory, and glad to go home.

CANDIOTTI: If you were them, would you want to have some private time to yourself and...

STAUFFER: Absolutely.

CANDIOTTI: Absolutely as well.

STAUFFER: Absolutely.

CANDIOTTI: And that's what we're hearing from their families as well. It will be up to them to decide what they would like to do as well. Thank you very much for joining us this night.

STAUFFER: OK, thank you. Thank you.

CANDIOTTI: It proves to be an exciting one certainly. And you know, the families have spent, just as Ed explained as well, considerable time with counselors. I know that the Young family, for example, has spent hours with them learning how they should be treating Ronald Young when he comes home. And our CNN's Jamie Colby has been in touch with Michelle Williams as well. She, too, also happens to be an Apache pilot herself, has also been well briefed on how they should handle their son -- their husbands when they come back, what they will be doing. Certainly in this case, once this ceremony is over with, and we understand it will probably be a very brief one. We're going to hear from the Major General here on base. He will be speaking, we are told, for approximately 40 seconds, so they say. Then the two pilots will address the crows.

After that, they will be retiring with their individual families and probably have a down day tomorrow, except for the fact that President Bush is to be attending a church service here at Fort Hood tomorrow morning, roughly, 11:00 in the morning, noon Eastern time. It's unclear yet whether the pilots will have an opportunity to meet him at this time. The president -- the White House staff isn't saying yet, but of course, we'll be learning that obviously as the evening goes on or by tomorrow morning -- Anderson?

COOPER: Susan, just got a couple questions. And one, just to let you know, Ed Lavandera was reporting, and I think he's going to try to find some more information, but he believes that the two have not yet taken off from Fort Bliss. The last information he had that we saw an image of both of them sort of walking off in the crowd. And it was easy to sort of assume that they were heading to the plane that would take them to Fort Hood.

Ed got a late word that maybe they were still inside a building, still receiving some sort of care and/or just discussions with either the former POW families or medical personnel or the like. So we're still trying to find out exactly when they will get in the air, just because I know a lot of people there...

CANDIOTTI: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: ...will be wanting to know.

CANDIOTTI: That's for sure. We know that it'll take them about an hour and a half together. They told us flight time once they do take off from Fort Bliss.

COOPER: And now I'm sure that hour and a half is going to feel like 10 hours to these...

CANDIOTTI: Oh, you bet. And if they're getting any medical interviews now, we also were told that once they land here, they are also supposed to be cleared by medical staff again, presumably, before they leave the van, walk over here to where -- just beyond where I'm standing.

They're going to have to go through a sea of people here. You can see all these members of the brigade. And all these -- we're told about 600, 700 of their fellow soldiers here.

And then they will be crossing a path. The family come up. They will hug. They will meet each other, briefly reunite. And then they will go up on the podium that you see over here behind me, Anderson?

COOPER: And you mentioned the Major General said he's going to speak for 40 seconds. If he's like some Major Generals know, 40 seconds means 40 seconds. I imagine he's not going to go a minute over?

CANDIOTTI: Well, we were told by our public affairs officer, the reason he knows that, he says, is because he wrote the general's remarks.

COOPER: I'm not sure the Major General would want that to be known, but...

CANDIOTTI: I'm sure he might elaborate on them.

COOPER: Yes, I'm sure so. So President Bush obviously not there now. You say arrives tomorrow, but really no word yet on whether or not -- I mean, it seems inconceivable that he would be on the same days with these two and not be able to meet with them, but still no...

CANDIOTTI: Well, they may have their reasons for not telling us at this time, but we do know that he will be flying over here from Crawford, Texas, of course, his home there. And when he comes here, we will get some pictures evidently of -- he'll be coming in here, attending the service. Certainly, it will be attended by some troops. And the family, when I spoke with the family of Ronald Young earlier tonight, they told me that they were still waiting at that time for more precise details. Even they were in the dark as to exactly what the game plan would be for the rest of tonight and tomorrow morning, for that matter.

I do know that if they will not be meeting with the president, their plan, they told me, is to sleep in until noontime.

COOPER: Understandable. I also imagine, you know, I can only imagine the scene in people's kitchens in their homes today, cooking up the best meals they can for their returning POWs, you know, picking out their favorite meals.

I remember one of the former POWs telling his family he wanted anything but chicken and rice, which is apparently what they had gotten most of, while they were in captivity for some three weeks.

Susan Candiotti, we're going to let you go. We'll check in with you, obviously, as you said as they're in the air. We anticipate about an hour, hour and a half flight time. And we will be following this story moment by moment. Susan Candiotti, thanks very much.

CANDIOTTI: We'll see you later.

COOPER: All right. We're going to go to a short break and then our coverage continues. Stay with us.

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