First Black Woman POW 'Still Standing' Shoshana Johnson was one of seven American POWs rescued alive 22 days after the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, in March of 2003. Her capture made her the first African-American female prisoner of war in U.S. history. Host Liane Hansen talks to Johnson about her new memoir I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home.
NPR logo

First Black Woman POW 'Still Standing'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123463716/123463695" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
First Black Woman POW 'Still Standing'

First Black Woman POW 'Still Standing'

First Black Woman POW 'Still Standing'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123463716/123463695" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Shoshana Johnson was one of seven American POWs rescued alive 22 days after the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, in March of 2003. Her capture made her the first African-American female prisoner of war in U.S. history. Host Liane Hansen talks to Johnson about her new memoir I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen, My Journey Home.

: Iraq claims it has proof that it has captured American prisoners of war. Today, Iraqi television and the Arabic language channel al-Jazeera have broadcast pictures of four Americans. American officials had first denied that any U.S. soldiers had been taken prisoner, but General Richard Myers now says a few Americans are missing.

T: The news was good, but our numbers were wrong. It was actually four men and a woman, Shoshana Johnson, an Army cook from Fort Bliss, Texas. Johnson has just published a book about her experiences before, during and after her ordeal. It's called "I'm Still Standing," and she joins us from member station KTEP in El Paso, Texas. Welcome to the program.

M: Thank you for having me.

: Jessica Lynch was also held captive and rescued, and she was part of this company. And her story was embellished, you know, that she had fought off attackers. And stories abound about a rivalry between the two of you. But you're friends. Would you set that record straight, please?

M: When we came home, we heard a lot of different stories of Jessica's rescue, her actions during the ambush. Of course, we were there during the ambush so we knew it wasn't true, and we also knew that Jessica is not the one that said those things. When the time came, she set the record straight, like we always knew she would. We were friends before the ambush; we were friends during our recovery; and we continue to be friends.

: You also lost a good friend, Private First Class Lori Piestewa. And she's Native American, and you actually still go to these memorial services that they have for her.

M: Yes, I do. It was very difficult at first to accept the invitation from her family. You know, there's a certain amount of guilt to look at them and know that their child is gone and I'm here. But the Piestewas are really incredible, loving, patriotic people. They welcomed me with open arms and just put me at ease. I think that my recovery is going well because I have a good relationship with the Piestewas.

: Yes. You came home to a lot of hoopla. Lots of press - you appeared on Jay Leno and Oprah. How prepared were you for the celebrity and the fact that you would be treated as a hero?

M: Was not prepared at all. In my mind, I'd just go home and go back to life. It was an accident that I, you know, that I even got captured. It wasn't supposed to happen. I held on as best as I could, and I survived it. I'm very proud that I survived it with dignity. But I don't see that as heroism. You know, some of my comrades who actually died that day in the ambush, some of them had an inkling that they weren't going to make it and yet they went on with their mission anyway. That is heroism.

: When you returned to Fort Bliss, you also fought to get the Army to acknowledge that you suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. I mean, even you didn't know that you were suffering from it in the beginning. I mean, your aunt took care of you in the hospital and you'd be lashing out and having the mood swings and, you know, and was it finally your daughter, Janelle, who said, why is Mommy crying all the time?

M: Yes. And then that's when you have to start to admit there's something wrong.

: Yeah.

M: And, you know, I started therapy, my doctor took excellent care of me, and he wrote it out in a report when they were doing the medical board. So I just don't understand what was the big hoopla about admitting that I had PTSD. I wanted them to say it. In the end, the disability payment difference was about $50 a month, which isn't much. But they need to acknowledge what happened to me and the consequences of what happened to me.

: Right. You left the Army. You're studying to become a master baker. I mean, one thing you want to do is, you know, do some kick-butt cake baking. That's what you're doing. My question is: How are you doing?

M: I'm doing OK. I still have issues. I still see a therapist. I'm still on some antidepressants and stuff. But I still put on heels and, you know, work it. My feet are killing me afterwards, but they look so fabulous. You know, every day is a struggle, but I know that I'm getting better all the time.

: Yeah. You're actually advising on a veterans' board. So you've been actively involved in, you know, making some suggestions for veterans?

M: Oh definitely. Someone from the VA was like, well, we have a committee. Of course, I got onto the committee and I'm, like, the youngest member there and the only person from this conflict. So, as time went on, I really got into it, and I'm still very much involved. And it's nice to know that I'm giving back after so many people came forward and helped me and gave to me.

: Shoshana Johnson. Her memoir is called "I'm Still Standing: From Captive Soldier to Free Citizen--My Journey Home." Thank you very much.

M: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.