FORT BLISS, Texas - On this third Friday in September, El Paso’s temperature was 79 degrees with a cooling two mile per hour breeze.
More than 100 soldiers, veterans and El Paso citizens joined the Fort Bliss leadership with a solemn observance for “those who could not attend” during the National Prisoners of War/Missing in Action Recognition Day, at the 1st Armored Division Parade Field, Sept 21.
Established by Congress in 1979, POW/MIA Recognition Day is a time when Americans can reflect on service members that deployed and did not return.
Special guest speaker, and El Paso Native, was retired Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, 507th Maintenance Company, and former POW.
“I am very honored to be here today. The El Paso community has shown me so much support I will take every opportunity to return it,” she said.
Johnson’s unit convoy was ambushed during Operation Iraqi Freedom, March 23, 2003. Johnson and several members of her unit were captured by Iraqi troops, and Johnson was held by enemy troops for about 22 days ... a Prisoner of War.
“People ask me, ‘how were you able to hold up while you were there’,” she said. “I never thought about being captured or how I would hold up if I was captured.”
“But I thought about home. We have so much here, and ‘CAN’T’ cannot be in our vocabulary especially after all those that came before us in Vietnam,” Johnson said. “You are capable of such greatness.”
Johnson was rescued by Marines assigned to the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, April 13, 2003.
Upon her return to the United States, Johnson said the El Paso community was critical to her recovery process.
“I would not have been able to move forward without the support of this community,” she said. “Everyone was coming up to me and asking me how I was, and saying ‘they put me in their prayers.’”
For soldiers it is important to have a strong spiritual fitness and family connection before you deploy, because it helped her while in captivity and after, she said.
“Unfortunately not all soldiers have that type of support, but in the military community if you have a buddy with a family that will take you in, take advantage of that,” Johnson said.
Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War Medal for her service in Iraq.
A graduate of El Paso’s Andress High School, she has since completed a Culinary Arts degree from El Paso Community College.
Raised in El Paso she is very familiar with Fort Bliss, and she even recalls her father was once a Drill Sergeant at the Logan Heights area, which is now military family housing.
Accompanying Johnson on this day was her mother, Eunice.
Eunice was laughing and smiling as many well-wishers congratulated and thanked her daughter for speaking at the observance and for her service to the Country.
Veterans from the Korean War, Vietnam and Iraqi Freedom also attended the observance and thanked her.
Eunice’s child was returned to her alive and healthy.
The POW/MIA motto is “You Are Never Forgotten” stressing the significance of this day to a particular group and to the Country as a whole.
More than 83,000 Americans are still reported missing from World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the 1991 Gulf War, according to the Defense Prisoner of War Military Personnel Office.
"Keeping the Promise" is DPMO's motto, which refers to the promise made by the U.S. Government to recover and account for missing Americans.
DPMO’s website is: http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/