Discovery of 11 bodies creates new anxiety

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2003

FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) - The dramatic rescue of Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital brought equal doses of hope and dread to the relatives of other missing or captured U.S. soldiers.

There was dread because 11 bodies - at least some believed to be American - had been found during the rescue. And there was hope since the military acted quickly to save Lynch, and could do so again.

''I'm just sitting here hoping if they find one maybe they will find some more,'' said Jack Dowdy, father of missing Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland.

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The mixed emotions were particularly hard on relatives of soldiers assigned to the 507th Maintenance Company, based in Fort Bliss. The Defense Department said two members of the 507th were killed and seven remained missing. Another five are listed as prisoners of war.

''We can't live like this. This is not living, waiting, not knowing,'' said Amalia Estrella-Soto, mother of 18-year-old Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto of El Paso.

Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk with the 507th, was among 15 soldiers of the company who were ambushed March 23 near Nasiriyah, a major crossing point on the Euphrates River northwest of Basra.

The 11 bodies found at Saddam Hospital, where Lynch was rescued, were still were being identified, said Army Maj. Rumi Nielson-Green, spokeswoman at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar. She said the bodies eventually would be sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

Javier Contreras said it was difficult not knowing the status of his missing cousin, 35-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata of El Paso.

''The family hopes they get everybody out, period. It gives them something to hang onto,'' Contreras said. ''It's hard not knowing anything. Officials call, they don't have any news. We don't know if they're still trying to find him.''

Lynch's rescue was welcome, albeit nerve-racking news, to Anecita Hudson, mother of Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, a 23-year-old POW from Alamogordo, N.M. ''I'm hoping still,'' she said. ''My son is over there. I just feel overwhelmed.''

Janie Kiehl, mother of missing Spc. James Kiehl, 22, of Comfort, cheered at news that Lynch was safe. Kiehl said the injured soldier might even help with her own family's uncertainty.

''I'm glad they rescued her. She's only 19,'' Kiehl said. ''I'm hoping they found some other news too, and that maybe she knows something.''