I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen--My Journey Home

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In March of 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom was only days old when world headlines were rocked by the attack on a U.S. army convoy in Iraq. On March 23rd, during the early march to Baghdad, Shoshana Johnson was wounded in an ambush of her convoy in the city of an-Nasiriyah and taken as a prisoner of war. Several soldiers were killed and five others were taken prisoner. While Jessica Lynch became the face associated with the capture, Shoshana was held for several more weeks. After the headline-making ambush, ...

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I'm Still Standing: From Captive U.S. Soldier to Free Citizen--My Journey Home

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Overview

In March of 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom was only days old when world headlines were rocked by the attack on a U.S. army convoy in Iraq. On March 23rd, during the early march to Baghdad, Shoshana Johnson was wounded in an ambush of her convoy in the city of an-Nasiriyah and taken as a prisoner of war. Several soldiers were killed and five others were taken prisoner. While Jessica Lynch became the face associated with the capture, Shoshana was held for several more weeks. After the headline-making ambush, capture, and rescue, Shoshana returned to the U.S., receiving numerous awards for her valor, including the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, and Prisoner of War Medal. In I’m Still Standing Shoshana writes for the first time about her experience as a prisoner of war, revealing emotions and frustrations that are personal as well as political..

As a speaker, Shoshana’s warmth and poise have earned her admirers all over the world. I’m Still Standing reveals the true source of courage behind the story, the full story she couldn’t share when she last appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live ..

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  • Shoshana Johnson
    Shoshana Johnson  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I'm Still Standing is one hell of a story by one hell of a woman. Soldier. Single mom. Survivor. Shoshana Johnson is a true American hero. Her memoir is a compelling, inspirational read." — Larry King

"Shoshana Johnson survived ambush, injury, captivity, and colleagues' deaths in the early days of the Iraq conflict with grit, dignity, and reflective grace. In I'm Still Standing, she tells her story with the same moving and admirable qualities." — Sheila Weller, New York Times bestselling author of Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell , Carly Simon — and the Journey of a Generation

"I'm Still Standing is Johnson's brutally honest account of the horrors of battle, the deprivations of captivity, and, finally, the sheer jubilation of freedom. What makes Johnson's inspiring tale required reading for Americans, in and out of uniform, is her great heart. Its triumphant beat is felt on every page of this important book." — Osha Gray Davidson, The Phoenix Sun

"Shoshana Johnson's story is unsettling, scary, powerful, and brilliant — a story of a life-threatening milestone that must be told to benefit others, both women and men." — Major General Irene Trowell-Harris, USAF, NC, Retired

"Shoshana Johnson is an American 'shero' whose story of tragedy and survival is an inspiration to many who have served and are serving in the United States Armed Forces. I am honored to have met Shoshana, my fellow veteran, and afforded the opportunity to read her miraculous story." — Lucretia M. McClenney, COL, USA, Retired

"Johnson endured her captivity with courage and emerged with honor. With the help of former army reservist Doyle, she vividly, simply, and unpretentiously tells her tale." — Publishers Weekly

" A well-told memoir of captivity and recovery." — Kirkus Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Johnson gained national attention as America's first black female prisoner of war. She was in the 507th Maintenance Company convoy ambushed on March 23, 2003, in Nasiriyah, and captured with five other soldiers including Jessica Lynch. One might call Johnson's presence in a firefight a compound accident. She was a cook who had enlisted in 1998 hoping to earn money for her education and perhaps “meet a nice guy,” and was a cook with the 507th, which existed to maintain Patriot missiles. But she was sent with the convoy, and the bullets Johnson took in both ankles did not ask for her military occupational specialty. Though objectively treated well enough by her Iraqi captors, she was wounded, female, and black: three reasons for being afraid. Rescued three weeks later in a daring raid, Johnson emerged with a Bronze Star, a case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and an unwanted celebrity status sufficiently resented by the system that she left the army. Johnson endured her captivity with courage and emerged with honor. With the help of former army reservist Doyle, she vividly, simply, and unpretentiously tells her tale . (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
The story of the first female African-American prisoner of war in U.S. military history. Johnson was a U.S. Army cook attached to the 507th Maintenance Company, a unit of mechanics and technicians in Iraq. On March 23, 2003, she was in a convoy that was ambushed after taking a wrong turn in the city of An Nasiriyah. During an intense firefight, Johnson received bullet wounds in her ankles that rendered her barely able to walk, and several other soldiers were taken prisoner. One of them, the soon-to-be-famous Jessica Lynch, was taken to a different location and was rescued days later. After 22 days, with their Iraqi captors frequently moving them from place to place, Johnson and her fellow POWs were rescued by U.S. Marines on April 13. Johnson and co-author Doyle ably recount her captivity with deftly chosen details. Most striking is the simple decency shown by many people. Several Iraqis, such as the doctors who treated Johnson's bullet wounds, are portrayed quite sympathetically. "I will do my best to care for you," the author quotes one as saying. "We must show the world our humanity." Indeed, Johnson and her fellow prisoners were mostly treated humanely by their captors, who provided them with food, clothing and medical attention. Still, Johnson brings across the brutal stress of being a POW and how it haunted her long afterward. The last section of the book, after she and her fellow POWs are returned to the United States, is perhaps the most unexpected. Johnson became a minor celebrity after her return, but she found that some in the military resented that she was being hailed as a hero. Some even felt that her unit had ineptly lost their way in An Nasiriyah and had thus deserved tobe captured. Johnson debunks such accusations while still relating their sting. A well-told memoir of captivity and recovery.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416567486
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 2/2/2010
  • Pages: 276
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Shoshana Johnson

Shoshana Nyree Johnson was born in the Republic of Panama and moved to the United States with her family when she was a child. A second-generation Army veteran, she did not plan a career in the military, but became a JROTC cadet in 1991 and joined the U.S. Army in September 1998 while attending classes at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

On March 23rd, 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Shoshana was in a convoy that was ambushed in the city of an-Nasiriyah. Wounded, she and five fellow soldiers were captured and taken as prisoners of war, making world news headlines. The POWs were rescued by U.S. Marines on the morning of April 13, and Shoshana returned to the U.S., retiring from the Army on a Temporary Disability Honorable Discharge in December 2003. Her awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, and the Prisoner of War Medal. U.S. Army officials also identified Shoshana as the first female POW of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the first black female POW in U.S. war history.

Shoshana lives in El Paso, Texas with her daughter Janelle, her sisters Nikki and Erika, and two nieces.

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Read an Excerpt

1

A POW

“I’m hit! I’m hit!”

It was like a line in a movie. But I was saying it. I had felt a hard thud against my left ankle, then a searing burning sensation through both of my legs, but I had no idea how bad it was—only that I didn’t have time to check it out. My legs felt torn and wrecked and I could feel a warm pool of blood forming at the bottom of both of my boots. My toes were swimming in it, and it hurt like hell. Under other circumstances, I would have curled into a fetal position, grabbed my wounds, screamed for help, been paralyzed in pain and fear, but as much as it hurt, there was too much stuff going on to pay any attention to it.

It was Sergeant James Riley’s idea to take cover under the five-ton tractor trailer I had ridden across the desert. As usual, he had sounded completely confident and sure about his idea to crawl under the huge vehicle to get away from the barrage of fire that surrounded us. It might have been his stoic attitude, or maybe it was the BCGs—the Army-issue glasses that supposedly made you look so undesirable they were nicknamed Birth Control Glasses. Those glasses and Riley’s confident attitude colored everything he said with the hue of wisdom and made it easy to follow his commands, so Specialist Edgar Hernandez, the driver of the truck I rode in, and I had hit the dirt and low-crawled under there with him without thinking twice.

There hadn’t been too many other options. We couldn’t tell how many people were shooting at us. It could have been hundreds judging by the amount of fire. However many there were, they wanted us dead and they surrounded us. No one shooting at us was wearing a uniform. They were just men, most of them in Western clothes—shirts, jeans, athletic shoes. Some wore traditional robes and sandals. It wasn’t the army I had expected to call an enemy in this fight. They were just men, angry, screaming, deadly men who outnumbered us in a big way and they were killing us, killing my friends.

We had wandered into their killing field like lost lambs. Our convoy of eighteen vehicles had driven down the narrow streets of this medium-size city. Buildings towered over us as we made several turns, stopped a few times, and were obviously confused about where we were and what we were doing. We had given them plenty of time to gather their forces and surround us. We had almost asked for this.

A constant barrage of bullets was pinging off our vehicles, nearby buildings, the ground all around us. They were lobbing mortars, and the heavy explosions made the ground leap beneath me. It had to have been like shooting down into a pen of trapped animals. We didn’t have anywhere to go, no escape, and little defense. The shots were coming so close, you could hear the zipping noise they made as they whipped past us to hit something solid a fraction of a second later. I was only halfway under the truck when the bullet struck my legs. I screamed that I had been hit and Riley grabbed my arm and dragged me the rest of the way under cover. Seconds later, Hernandez took a round in the upper arm.

There was blood everywhere.

“Why isn’t anyone coming to help us?” I screamed.

Riley and Hernandez ignored me, their attention focused on what was going on around us. It was a miracle we weren’t all dead. Our attackers were laying down a blanket of fire from every direction and angle. My untrained assessment of the situation was that we were pretty much fucked. I had fired my weapon once from the cab of the truck—a shot I got off despite my fear, violently shaking hands, and the two-hundred-meter distance between me and the guy aiming at me with a pistol. I missed.

“Give me your weapon,” Riley demanded.

I handed him my M16. He took aim and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

“This one’s jammed, too,” he said in disgust, tossing the weapon to the ground. “Piece of junk.”

Hernandez fired a couple of times, but in short order his weapon became as useless as mine. Now, between Riley, Hernandez, and me, we had three M16s that wouldn’t fire.

We were defenseless. Worse, I knew people were dying around us, people who were my friends. People I cared about.

I knew First Sergeant Robert Dowdy, the man we called Top because he was the highest-ranking noncommissioned officer in the unit, was dead. I had had a brief glimpse of his battered body after his vehicle slammed into the back of my five-ton. My friend Pie, Specialist Lori Piestewa, had been driving Top’s vehicle and I knew she was hurt, too, hurt badly. She looked pinned inside the wreckage, blood splattered on her forehead. I couldn’t tell if she was dead or alive but she wasn’t moving. My friend Jessica, Private First Class Jessica Lynch, had been riding with Pie, but I hadn’t had any sight of her. I only knew that their vehicle had been hit with something like an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), they had lost control, and they had slammed into the back of my five-ton, which left their truck a twisted pile of metal. It was apparent that anyone left alive in there was probably in very bad shape.

A bullet struck one of the huge tires of the truck that served as our shelter and air hissed out, the vehicle slowly lowering and tilting over us. Another round pierced the radiator, adding a loud hiss to the noise around us. I worried one of the rounds would find the gas tank and the whole thing would explode over us and we would go up in a ball of flame.

“Can you guys see any of our guys, anyone coming to get us?” I asked.

“Miller has a good fire position. He’s taking a bunch of people out,” Riley said. He still seemed calm, calculating, taking in the whole situation as if from a distance.

Everything was noise and confusion; flying dirt and black smoke obscured our vision. The stinging, metallic smell of cordite and the thick, choking smell of burning oil, plastic, and metal hung heavy in the air. I heard the people who were shooting at us calling to each other; the language was incomprehensible but the tone, the excitement in their voices that they had Americans cornered, was apparent in their speech.

It was impossible to know exactly what was going on, but there were some things I knew for sure. We were all in some deep shit, the kind of shit you only see in movies. My legs were killing me. We were about to die.

Then I saw an RPG headed for our truck. I watched as it seemed to float on air in a deadly path to the side of our vehicle. I should have screamed a warning at Riley and Hernandez, should have told them to duck, but I watched that rocket headed toward us and simply couldn’t make a sound. Nothing would come out of my mouth. I cringed, ducking my head into my arms, thinking I was about to be incinerated in the approaching explosion. The round hit the side of the truck with a hollow thud and nothing happened. A dud, I thought, but there was too much going on to feel any relief at that stroke of luck.

“We have to surrender,” Riley said. He said it as a matter of fact, as if it were a given. He scanned the area, still calm about everything, as if he thought he was starring in his own movie and wouldn’t be the one to be hit in this climactic scene. I wanted to hit stop, rewind, and go back to that part that didn’t have me in it, but that wasn’t going to happen. I was terrified and surrendering was the last thing I wanted to do, but there was no denying that the three of us cowering under that truck had no way to defend ourselves and two of us were bleeding. Help wasn’t coming. I didn’t expect the cavalry to come charging over the hill. Riley’s idea to surrender, an idea that was unlikely to enter any Hollywood movie star’s dialogue, seemed the only option.

The shooting started to slow down, but that wasn’t good news. The bullets were only coming from the enemy now. No one on our side was shooting anymore.

“They’ve got Miller now,” Riley said. “We have to surrender. There’s nothing else we can do.”

The thought of surrendering petrified me. Interrogations, beatings, torture, rape—all of that flashed through my head.

My daughter.

My family.

How the hell did I end up here?

But Riley was right, we had to give up. Just as he had led us to the shelter, he slid back, then stepped out from under it, his hands raised. I held my breath, fearing he might be mowed down in front of us. After several moments no one fired and Riley remained standing, so Hernandez followed him, pushing himself out from under the truck, leaving a trail of blood behind and cradling his wounded arm. He raised his hands and waited for what came next.

I was shaking. I was saying the Lord’s Prayer to myself and rustling up the gumption to push myself out from under the truck, when someone grabbed my legs and pulled me from my shelter.

And like that, I became a prisoner of war.

© 2010 Shoshana Johnson

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Table of Contents

1 A POW 1

2 The Oath 7

3 Into Custody 13

4 Alone 19

5 Medical Care 23

6 The Unit 33

7 The Men 43

8 Camp Virginia 47

9 Movement 53

10 Making the Trip 61

11 Going to Baghdad 69

12 Prayers 79

13 Interrogation 91

14 New Places 99

15 Red Crescent 105

16 Body Art 115

17 Surgery 119

18 Waking Up 125

19 Woman Stuff 133

20 Tumbling Down 141

21 An Nasiriyah 151

22 Moving Around 165

23 Thinking 175

24 Unwanted 179

25 House Hunting 191

26 Rescue 201

27 Freedom 211

28 Calling Home 217

29 Good Wishes 225

30 Hoopla 237

31 No Hero 243

32 Reverend Jackson 255

33 Recovery 261

34 Life Today 269

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    super memoir

    In 2003 in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, six soldiers (including Jessica Lynch who became the prime celebrity of the incident) assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company were captured by the enemy during an ambush. One of those taken in the firefight was unit cook Shoshana Johnson, who became the first ever African-American female POW. After three plus weeks as a prisoner, moving from place to place, the marines rescued her and the others (except Lynch previously rescued).

    The key to this memoir is how profound Johnson describes her ordeal during captivity and even more so as a sudden celebrity of sorts. She makes the case that her abductees were kind giving her medical aid to her ankles hit by bullets and fed and clothed her. Yet throughout she lived in fear as a Black woman POW in a country in which gender and race matter. After being freed, her fame left others angry and resentful so she left the military. With a strong conviction, Ms. Johnson and M.L. Doyle tear into her accusers that she and the others deserved being prisoners and were no heroes as they simply made a wrong turn. Well written with the predominance of the memoir being her POW 22 days and her PTSD that still haunts her since becoming free; fans of military chronicles will want to read I'm Still Standing.

    Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2012

    SMH

    I am just shocked! I ordered your book because I had to write a paper about the reporting on sensitive items by the media. I wanted to write from an angle where the media rights about our Soldiers and how sometimes they report the wrong thing. For instance how it was reported that Jessica Lynch was a hero when in fact she wasn't. How it was reported that Tillman had been killed by the enemy when in fact he was killed by friendly fire.

    Anyway...Shoshana I am a Soldier and I was just shocked when I read your book. It was a good read! I couldn't put it down. I couldn't get enough and wanted eagerly to get to the next page. I applaud you for getting up every day! I thank you for continuing on! I can't imagine your struggle, but I'm grateful that you were able to relive it enough to write it down.

    Be blessed in your travels thru life!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted May 8, 2011

    Inspiring

    Gives a very honest perspective on being a POW. Well writen. A good read. Not a bad read if you plan to deploy.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 13, 2010

    Inspirational

    what a great book. The forgotten POW. Shoshana makes us feel what it is like to be a prisoner of war, especially from a female perspective. I don't think I could have survived with the horrible damage to her legs and being forced to walk on them time after time. Even though I knew the outcome was freedom at the end, the info about adapting to life in the USA afterward was enlightening. A must read for all of us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2010

    Black Pearls Book Club Read and Discussed I'm Still Standing

    I and members of my bookclub, Black Pearls Book Club in Dallas, Texas read and discussed this book. It received mixed reviews from members but our moderator, who really enjoyed it, made the discussion of the book very interesting. We felt that Ms. Johnson's life was rather uneventful until she was captured in Iraq. So, we felt that much of her pre-Iraq experience was used as a filler for the book. We were impressed with her account of her Iraq experience and her spunk to write about the flaws in our military. We applaud her for coming through this ordeal and writing about it. We were amazed that with how gentle, and unangry she seemed.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 15, 2010

    Could'nt put it down, clarified alot off miconceptions that I had. Got me back on the reading scene. Good work and I'm proud off Ms.Shoshana Johnson.

    I've said what Iwanted to say.

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  • Posted March 12, 2010

    Outstanding read for female vets

    Being a veteran myself, I found this book truly inspiring. It's real, and real thoughts and wonderfully put to print.

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  • Posted February 28, 2010

    Very Inspirational

    What Shoshana Johnson went through is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. The book details her dreams to nightmare. Her dream was to achieve the very best she could... the nightmare was travelling in a convoy only to get lost, captured, and becoming a POW... I give this book a ***** (5) star rating and recommend this book to everyone.

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  • Posted February 24, 2010

    This is a story of a true American hero!

    Shoshana is a quiet hero. As with many before her she does not bore us with blowing her own horn, rather she is and remains humble about her terrorizing experience. Sometimes all it takes to be a hero, is to survive! She did it and she is still standing!

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  • Posted February 21, 2010

    I felt that "I'm Still Standing" is well written and easy to read.

    This is for me a must read especially if you are interested in what happened with our soldiers during 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom. It shows the communication breakdown... or should I say the broke down equipment how military had to deal with in a war time situation. It shows how brave our women and men are in the face of adversity and the compassion of those who helped them. I highly recommend this book to others and am looking forward to reading what the other survivors have to say. I will be sharing my copy of the book with others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2010

    I'm Still Standing

    I found this book to be an eye opener. Althogh we are at war with people, Shoshana has shown us the kindness and caring that is shown by some of the persons that are under that war. Some of the waring people are not fighting at all or know not what they are fighting for. They are caught up in injustices, however, the people themselves do not show our captives some of those injustices.
    War is difficult for all concerned. Misinformation flows as does an uuncertainty about what is really being faught. When a person signs up in the service does that automatically mean they will be carring a gun and come face to face with the enemy? Ms.Johnson does an excellent job of answering questions such as this. She shows us that enemies alike are only humans. Each in their own context. Fear will arise when confronted with a new situation and Ms. Johnson shows us that we are all the same. The soldgiers all want to go home. Yet they believe in the United States and everything it stands for. And so they stay and fight and engage the enemy. In the back of their minds are memories of their families in which they find peace.
    I read this book in hours. I found it fast paced and easy to read. I would recommend it to everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 8, 2010

    A great book.

    It's amazing the things she went through while being held as a POW. This was an excellent book. I recommend this book to anyone. It really gives you a better appreciation for our military members and the things they have to endure in their everyday lives.

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    Posted June 2, 2011

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