UNSUNG HEROES: This Female POW Survived 3 Weeks As A Hostage In Iraq

Unsung Heroes
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Curney Russell from the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion provides a steady arm for former prisoner of war Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, with the 507th Maintenance Company, at Kuwait City.
Marine Corps photo

Though Shoshana Johnson enlisted in the Army, she never planned to see combat. A Quartermaster Corps food service specialist, she deployed to Iraq in 2003 with the duty of preparing meals with the 507th Maintenance Company. But on March 23, 2003, her supply vehicle took a wrong turn and was separated in Nasiriyah from the military’s 600-truck convoy.

According to the Army, she and her fellow soldiers were ambushed in the city. Eleven of them were killed and six — including Johnson — were taken prisoner. Pfc. Jessica Lynch was also among them.

Though they tried to fight back, a majority of them were thwarted by malfunctioning rifles. While several publications reported an intense firefight, CNN reported that the soldiers ultimately surrendered to their Iraqi captors when their weapons malfunctioned.

During the ambush, Johnson sustained a gunshot injury that wounded both of her ankles.

“I was bleeding and my boots filled up with blood,” she told Military.com. “After my boots were removed, I couldn't believe that the raw wounds with all the gore were really mine.”

A bullet passed through one leg and into the other, breaking a bone in her left leg and severing her right Achilles tendon.

Johnson, unable to walk, was dragged from the vehicle.

Shortly after bringing the six captured soldiers to an official location, their captors then questioned them on tape for the international media.

CNN reported, “During the gruff interview, Johnson looked tense, her eyes darting quickly left, then right.” It had only been an hour since she was shot through both ankles.

Her family, back in Fort Bliss, Texas, watched Johnson on television prior to receiving notice from the Army.

She recounted, “I was terrified. I didn't know what was going to happen to me, and I was in a lot of pain.”

Johnson was 30 and a single mother of a 2-year-old daughter at the time when she was captured. Though she tried to stay emotionally stable when facing her captors, she broke down when she learned her family had seen her interrogation, thinking of her daughter.

The group was moved a total of seven times in Baghdad before being rescued. During that time, she did not know if she would be killed. However, in her book “I’m Still Standing,” Johnson said that her captors treated her well, and the Iraqis even performed surgery on her wounded ankles.

Johnson was rescued by Marines assigned to the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, April 13, 2003.

When the Marines saved her, she returned home having survived as the first black female prisoner of war.

Born in Panama, Johnson came from a family full of service members. Her father Claude is a retired drill sergeant and a veteran of the first Gulf War. Her aunt Maggie served as an Air Force nurse, and an uncle is a Vietnam veteran. Even her sister Nikki deployed to Afghanistan as an Army lieutenant shortly before she left for Iraq, in addition to a number of cousins who served and continue to serve in various branches of the armed services.

When she was in high school, she joined JROTC, even though she hadn’t planned to join the military after graduation. After attending college briefly at the University of Texas El Paso, Johnson dropped out to enlist in 1998.

Shortly after her rescue, she was medically retired after  receiving the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, and the Prisoner of War Medal for her service in Iraq. 

She continues to bear both the physical scars from her wounds, in addition to continuing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet Johnson had to fight for benefits from the Army and Department of Veterans Affairs.

Johnson told the Daily Beast in 2011, “I go to therapy on a regular basis, and I’m learning coping mechanisms. I have certain triggers, like when I see war scenes on TV — the military, uniforms, Iraq. If I watch that, I’ll have a flashback later.”

Still, she presses on.

Having finished her associate’s degree in 2011, Johnson said that if she writes another book, “It will be a cookbook.”

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