Behind Enemy Lines

updated 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/07/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Natalie Hudson had premonitions of doom ever since her husband, Army Specialist Joseph Hudson, 23, shipped out for the Gulf in February. Then, on Sunday morning, she got news every Army wife dreads. She was summoned to an emergency meeting of the family support group at Fort Bliss, Texas, Joseph's home base. "I thought maybe a bomb had hit their camp," says Hudson, who rushed to the meeting in tears. "But I never imagined this."

Iraqi troops had taken Hudson and at least 10 other soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Company as the first prisoners of the war, after their lightly armed unit took a wrong turn near the southeastern town of Nasiriya. Within hours al-Jazeera broadcast disturbing images that indicated that some of the prisoners had been executed, footage that soon appeared on screens around the world—including the one 5-year-old Cameron Hudson, the couple's only child, was watching at a friend's Alamogordo, N. Mex., home just hours after her mother had told her the news. "There's my daddy!" she shouted. Says Natalie, 23, his wife of two years: "She knows something's wrong, but she doesn't understand. I told her, 'Your daddy's in trouble.' "

As People went to press, two more POWs—Apache helicopter pilots David Williams and Ronald Young—had been paraded on TV, making it clear that in the coming days, more GIs could face the same plight.

Back home, relatives of the other soldiers confirmed missing watched, waited and prayed. "You can't believe it. You just never think it's going to hit you," says Lisa Miller, an aunt of Patrick Miller, 23, a father of two young children from Wichita, Kans., who worked as a laborer before joining the military last year to help pay back student loans. "He's a real outgoing and strong-willed kid. I just hope he's holding up okay," she says. "He had a lot of pride." An aunt of Shoshana Johnson, a mechanic and cook who joined the Army four years ago, describes her the same way. "Her attitude before going to Kuwait was upbeat," says Margaret Henderson, a retired Army nurse who spoke to Johnson just days before she was deployed to the Gulf. "She said, 'You do what you gotta do, Aunt Maggie.' She was confident—not cocky, but confident."

A single mom who was never meant to see frontline combat (one of the few roles still not open to women in the Army), Johnson, 30, left her daughter Janelle with her parents when she went off to war. Her father, Claude, 56, a Gulf War veteran, was flipping channels to find a cartoon for the girl on Sunday morning when he heard one of the early reports of the capture of some soldiers, including an African-American woman he soon learned was Johnson. "My concern is that the Red Cross does something quickly to insure that they're treated
properly," he says. "After that, we need to get her back."

Thomas Fields-Meyer
Lori Rozsa in Miami, Kate Klise in Chicago, Zelie Pollon in Alamogordo and Inez Russell in EI Paso

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