Clad in an assortment of pajamas and shorts, the soldiers who had been held captive for 22 days clambered out of helicopters to a delighted welcome at an air base in southern Iraq, hours after their release.
The seven were taken by helicopter to this base near Kut and flown to a military airport south of Kuwait City.
They "are in good shape," although two have gunshot wounds, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said.
Shortly after their capture early in the war, the seven had been shown on Iraq's state-run television — giving a human face to the peril confronting American troops.
Chief Warrant Officer Ronald D. Young Jr., whose Apache helicopter was forced down March 23, clutched a bottle of water as he walked toward the C-130 for the flight to Kuwait, then grinned widely as a soldier shook his hand.
His father, back in Lithia, Ga., watched shaky video footage of his son on television. "It's him, and I'm just so happy that I could kiss the world!" Ronald Young Sr. said. "It's him! It's definitely him."
Also among the seven was Chief Warrant Officer David S. Williams, 30, of Orlando, Fla., who was in the Apache with Young.
Army Spc. Shoshana Johnson, 30, of Fort Bliss, Texas — the only woman among the freed prisoners — limped in slippers and showed a bandage on her right ankle from a gunshot wound. She had been held since Iraqis ambushed her 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company outside the southern city of Nasiriyah on March 23.
The others were identified as Army Sgt. James Riley, 31, Pennsauken, N.J., Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, 23, Alamogordo, N.M., and Army Pfc. Patrick Miller, 23, Park City, Kan., and Spc. Edgar Hernandez, 21, of Mission, Texas — all members of the 507th.
Hernandez had been shot in the elbow, said Capt. Matt Belisle, a pilot who helped in the evacuation of the POWs.
"They look to be in pretty good condition ... all giving the thumbs up," said Col. Larry Brown, operations officer for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
Some wore blue-and-white striped pajamas, another was in blue shorts. Marines at this base came forward to pat them on the back.
President Bush, who spent the weekend at Camp David, Md., was told Sunday morning of the freed captives.
Capt. David Romley said Marines marching north toward Tikrit were met by Iraqi soldiers north of Samarra who approached the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Company and had the seven Americans with them.
Another spokesman for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Capt. Neil Murphy, said the Iraqi soldiers who had brought the Americans had been abandoned by their officers and "realizing that it was the right thing to do, they brought these guys back."
"We go to every effort to recover any of the Marines or any of our soldiers taken captive," Romley said.
Rumsfeld said Iraqis told U.S. troops that they would find the seven missing soldiers at a location about four or five miles south of Tikrit. "They said, 'You should go get them,' and they did," Rumsfeld said.
When Marine combat headquarters got news that the missing had been found, the troops applauded — rare in combat operations, Murphy said.
"You could feel the happiness and excitement in the combat operations center," he said.
Pentagon officials are committed to tracking down all soldiers still missing or captured since the spectacular rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch on April 1.
Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of U.S. forces, underscored his commitment to rescuing coalition captives although he said he didn't think that all POWs and MIAs could be recovered.
"I don't think we could predict that at all," he said in a television interview. "I think it would be a true blessing if we were able to do that, and I don't think we ... can count on it.
"But I can tell you this: Even though we can't count on it, we can work at them hard. And we have been, and we will," Franks added.
Officials had been sounding an upbeat note in recent days, saying more Iraqis were willing to talk and share secrets about potential POW sightings now that Saddam's henchmen are gone.
Lynch, who was rescued April 1 from a hospital in Nasiriyah after an Iraqi civilian tipped soldiers off, became the first POW to return home Saturday.
"This morning our family joins America in rejoicing over the news of the safe return of seven brave heroes to U.S. military custody in Iraq," Lynch's family said in a statement Sunday. "This is certainly an answer to our prayers and — we're certain — the prayers of literally millions of other concerned citizens of the world."