One of America's best known POWs was forced out of the Army in the months after she came home from Iraq because other soldiers and officers resented her celebrity status, she said in a new book.
Shoshana Johnson, who was captured in the early days of the Iraq War, along with Jessica Lynch and four male soldiers, said the resentment peaked when she was charged with fraud, an allegation she denied and investigators dismissed.
The experience of surviving an assault that left friends dead and then being taken prisoner has created emotional problems including depression that required hospitalization and treatment that continues to this day, Johnson wrote in "I'm Still Standing."
The former Army cook, who has been described as the country's first black female POW, was shot in both ankles when her small convoy of mechanics, cooks and disabled vehicles that needed to be towed got lost and wandered into the city of Nasariyah. Realizing they had gone the wrong way, leaders of the lumbering convoy struggled to turn around in the city's narrow streets, giving Iraqis plenty of time and notice to set up a devastating ambush as the vehicles tried to leave the city.
Eleven U.S. soldiers were killed in the firefight and six were taken prisoner, including Johnson and her friend Lynch. Lynch became the most famous of the war's POWs after the Pentagon declared that she was captured following a Rambo-like fight in which she went down shooting.
Lynch later wrote a book saying the Pentagon's story was completely wrong and that she had never fired a shot, becoming critically injured after her vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and crashed.
Johnson's ordeal got much less publicity but the specialist got star treatment at her home base of Fort Bliss, Texas, after her return home. Returning to light duty after her wounds partially healed, she was frequently assigned by her superiors to represent the Army at glamorous events and to give talks around the country while other members of her unit were stuck with Army routine.
She remembers a colonel upset that Johnson, a lowly specialist, was at a function for the base's brass and their wives. Others were angry at all the travel arrangements and special orders they had to create for Johnson to travel and for her accommodations.
Former POW Shoshana Johnson Was Accused of Fraud
"The celebrity status of us ex-POWs became a headache for the command and I'm sure they were all wondering just how long they would have to put up with it," she wrote. "And there's no denying that much of what they were sending me to was pretty darn cool."
There was her appearance on "The Jay Leno Show" and the front row seats at an Oscar de la Hoya boxing match. After the de la Hoya fight, Johnson said, she was confronted by a fellow soldier.
"'Why do you get to go to the fight?' he asked, angry and accusatory. 'I was in Iraq. I'm a veteran. How come I don't get to do those things?'" Johnson wrote.
"As time went on, the jealousy and pettiness grew more and more unavoidable," she said.
She said she was criticized by officers for her nail polish being too bright, her boots not shiny enough, or her medals while in dress uniform not arranged properly. At one point, a senior non-commissioned officer accused her of fraud.
Johnson was living in a family unit on the base with her daughter, Janelle, but the accusation was that her daughter was actually living with Johnson's parents, meaning Johnson should have been assigned to single-soldier quarters.
She was cleared when an investigation determined that Janelle was living with her, but, she wrote, "The experience was hurtful and is still hard for me to understand."
The accusations against Johnson and the other POWs escalated to the point where they were at times blamed for their capture, for getting lost and being accused of not fighting back. "We had brought shame to the Army and to the unit in many of their eyes," she wrote.
Johnson was released from captivity in April 2003, and by August, she applied for a medical discharge from the Army.
After getting out of uniform, Johnson was frequently booked as a speaker but about a year later, the invitations began to peter out. And with time on her hands, Johnson became depressed, suffered through crying jags, at times afraid to go outside. She saw a therapist but it wasn't enough for her to deal with the emotions.
"These feelings of sadness have continued for years and I still struggle to understand why I am alive when so many good people aren't," she wrote.
"Finally, in the spring of 2008, I checked myself into a psych ward for a few days."
She keeps in touch with the four men who were captured with her, as well as Lynch, who was held separately from her, she said.
She returned to school and earned an associates degree and took up culinary arts classes. The former Army cook now hopes, she wrote, to be a "kick-ass baker."