When Shoshana Johnson signed up to join the Army as a cook, she was told she was undertaking a “safe job.” However, upon her deployment to Iraq, she soon realized that the Army has no safe jobs.
In 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Johnson’s maintenance company was traveling as part of a 600-vehicle convoy toward Baghdad. But her unit fell behind and missed a turn, causing them to travel into the enemy-controlled territory of Al Nasiriyah.
“We were lost and I was worried because the Iraqis had time to set up an ambush,” said Johnson. “We could hear gunfire hitting our vehicle. The adrenaline started going; I was terrified.”
Her company was pushed off the road by an Iraqi truck. Suddenly, she felt a burn in her legs and realized she had been hit. She was then dragged away while getting kicked and punched by her captors.
“You automatically think, rape, torture, kill,” she said.
Blindfolded and hands tied, Johnson along with other soldiers from her unit were taken to a Baghdad prison.
The prisoners of war were interrogated and moved seven times over the course of 22 days. Then, thanks to a tip from an Iraqi informant, U.S. Marines located the POWs 50 miles north of Baghdad.
Johnson recalls a Sunday morning when, the door suddenly was knocked down and she heard the voices of American service members coming to rescue them.
“It was glorious. It was glorious,” she recalled.
The battle that followed her home
When the troops returned home, Johnson was put in the spotlight as the first black female POW in U.S. military history.
“We were not happy with all the attention. We were rescued, were thrust into the limelight, and we had no moment to grieve for those who passed away. So, it’s difficult for us,” she said.