The physical healing is done, but nearly seven years after becoming the U.S. armed forces’ first black female prisoner of war when she was captured by Iraqi insurgents, Shoshana Johnson is still dealing with the mental trauma of her ordeal.
In March 2003, just days after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Johnson’s unit got separated from its convoy and was ambushed in the city of Nasiriyah. Eleven members of the unit were killed, and seven, including Johnson and Jessica Lynch, were captured.
Lynch, who was held separately, became a national hero when she was rescued after nine days of captivity. Johnson and four other captives were rescued after 22 days, also to be welcomed as heroes.
Physical and mental wounds
Johnson was badly wounded in both ankles during the assault, and, she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Tuesday in New York, the effects will be with her forever.
“I’ll never be the same, but the legs are still here, so I’m very blessed,” she said.
Also still with her are the mental wounds she suffered, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.
“I’m still working on it. I still see a therapist on a regular basis. I still take antidepressants. It’s going to be a long, long battle,” Johnson said.
Now discharged from the Army, Johnson is back in the news because of the publication of her book about her experiences. “I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen - My Journey Home” was published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster.
“One thing is that I was running away,” she said. Another was “that there was animosity between myself and Jessica.”
Litany of errors
When Jessica Lynch, who was badly injured in the attack, was rescued nearly two weeks before everyone else, the Army sold her as a John Wayne-type hero who had gone down with her guns blazing. The story captured the country’s imagination, and the fascination continued when it was revealed that the Army’s original story was a total fabrication. Lynch, like Johnson, did not have a working weapon and surrendered without firing a shot.
Johnson had to fight to get the same disability pay as Lynch. It also took two years before the Army recognized her PTSD, she writes. But, she says, she remains friends with Lynch and understands why she got more attention than the other captives.
After hours of wandering through the desert trying to find the convoy, the unit of vehicles went through Nasiriyah for the second time. That’s when a mob of armed men, none of them in military uniform, attacked. When the soldiers tried to fight back, most of their rifles jammed.
Learning from mistakes
Lauer asked if she holds any anger toward the Army for all the mistakes.