On the first reports that an American prisoner of war had been rescued late Tuesday -- and that it might be a woman -- Claude Johnson was in a state. He grabbed the phone in the living room on the first ring and practically barked at a caller, "What do you know?"
The news, when it was confirmed, was not exactly what Johnson had prayed for. The prisoner, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, had been snatched by U.S. Special Operations troops from an Iraqi hospital and was safely in American hands. But Johnson's own daughter, Spc. Shoshana N. Johnson, remained in Iraqi custody, her whereabouts unknown.
So there was no respite today for Claude Johnson, who has lived with anguish and dread since his daughter was shown on Iraqi television after her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, was ambushed and shot to pieces two Sundays ago.
"Everybody just got hyped up, thinking it was her," Johnson said today, recounting his household's soaring hopes and jittery nerves late Tuesday. "And after they finally put [the news] out, then everybody just went elsewhere."
Shoshana Johnson, a 30-year-old Army cook and single mother, remains in Iraq. She is one of at least seven POWs; an additional 15 soldiers are listed as missing in action. And behind those figures are an equivalent number of families whose anxieties are nourished by day after day of waiting, hoping and not knowing.
"The hardest part?" said Johnson. "The wait. The wait. The wait for [the International Committee of the Red Cross] to get in there -- and once somebody comes back with the information that they're being taken care of, it eases the pressure. . . . And then we go on to another wait, waiting for her homecoming."
Curiously little is known about what happened to the 507th, whose soldiers account for five of the seven POWs and seven of the 15 MIAs -- how it strayed from the main convoy, which Iraqi forces beset it and whether any of its soldiers were executed after they were captured near the southern town of Nasiriyah.
The Army, if it knows the answers to those questions, has not shared them with the families of the captured and missing soldiers. The Red Cross has not been allowed to see the POWs so far, despite daily negotiations with Iraqis by its delegates in Baghdad.
So for the extended family of the 507th, as for those of other captured and missing soldiers, almost any news is good news in the information vacuum that envelops their loved ones' fates.
The parents of POW Sgt. James J. Riley, of Pennsauken, N.J., were at home, waiting anxiously for word on the rescue, when their Army liaison officer, Maj. Nathan Banks, telephoned with the news about Jessica Lynch.
"Well, there's a family that has their child back," Riley's mother, Jane, said, according to Banks. He added: "She was truly ecstatic that Jessica was found. She said it gave her hope that her son would come home, too. They were all ecstatic last night."
In Lithia Springs, Ga., the mother of Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., a 26-year-old Army Apache helicopter pilot captured last week by the Iraqis, was also hanging on the news that a POW had been spirited to safety.
"Of course, at first our hearts went up" at the initial reports, said Kaye Young. "But we were glad of the news. Ultimately, it has uplifted us because it's given us hope that we will get that call some day."
"It gave me a little more hope," echoed Maria de Luz Hernandez, whose son, Spc. Edgar Adan Hernandez, was captured with soldiers in the 507th. "I know God will bring him home to me," she said.
Johnson lives in El Paso, a short drive from the 507th's home base at Fort Bliss, and up and down Ernie Banks Street, where he lives, his neighbors have tied yellow ribbons and dropped by his house to slap him on the back, buck him up, tell him to hang in there.
A retired Army sergeant and a veteran of the Gulf War of 1991, Johnson, 56, learned from television that his daughter, known as Shana (pronounced SHAWN-a), had been taken prisoner. It was a Sunday, and he was surfing the tube for cartoons for Shana's 2-year-old daughter when he caught a snippet of news: Five Americans had been taken as prisoners from the 507th, and one of them was a woman. It took him only a few minutes on the Internet to confirm his fear that the woman was Shana.
He was as confused as he was upset: Why was Shana, a cook with a rear-guard unit, that close to the action? "I couldn't see my daughter being that close to battle because she was a cook. Obviously, Nasiriyah was still a hot zone and soldiers, when they are engaged in a hot zone, they don't come back for hot meals. That's why I'm confused. Those are questions I'm bound to ask when the war is over."
But the question of how his daughter fell into enemy hands is not one of his "hot items," Johnson said. "The hot item on my mind is getting the Red Cross or Red Crescent in there to do an assessment of all the prisoners -- what is their status, do they treat and feed them properly, keep them in the dark, stuff like that," he said. "People are saying they were soldiers, but there are specific concerns they need to address for a female."
Johnson -- measured, serious, deeply concerned about his eldest daughter -- has a number of worries.
One is that scam artists will collect money fraudulently, saying it is for the families of POWs. Another is that his daughter and other prisoners from the 507th may have seen something -- the executions of prisoners, for instance -- that the Iraqis do not want made public. Another is that Shana may not know that her family and Americans are aware she is a POW, increasing her sense of isolation and despair.
And he is well aware that the American POWs from the Gulf War of 1991 were poorly treated, beaten and, in the case of one of the two women captured then, sexually assaulted. If the POWs in this war are even more imperiled than last time, Johnson prefers not to dwell on that.
"I don't want to go there in my thoughts," he said. "It is supposed to be honorable to do the right thing during war."
He believes Shana is mentally and emotionally resilient. She grew up around Army bases all over the country, attended a half-dozen schools before graduating from high school in El Paso and loves cooking enchiladas for her family. He is certain she is taking comfort from prayer; before she left home for the Middle East, she made sure she had her rosary beads, after initially leaving them behind on her dresser.
Shana, born in her father's native Panama, is the eldest of Claude Johnson's three daughters, an easygoing person who got along well in school and almost never argued with her parents. She enlisted in the Army in 1998 and re-upped a few years later to be assigned to Fort Bliss, near her parents' home. With her training from the Army, she hopes to become a chef in civilian life.
Johnson imparts this information edgily. He prefers to stick to what he sees as the essentials: the importance of Red Cross officials being allowed to visit Shana and the other American POWs.
"They've got to keep their eye on the bouncing ball," he said. "The bouncing ball is Shoshana."
Staff writers Anne Hull and Sylvia Moreno in Washington and Dale Russakoff in New York contributed to this report.