NEW YORK – Recalling his time as a prisoner of war in Iraq as "sheer terror," Army Sgt. James Riley (search) said Tuesday that the experience has left him feeling overwhelmed and confused at times.
Riley, who appeared on ABC's Good Morning America, also reiterated that he does not consider himself a hero. The Pennsauken, N.J., man said he was just a soldier doing his job when Iraqi soldiers ambushed his unit near Nasiriyah (search) on March 23.
"We operate in areas of the world, and some places we're not wanted, and some places we're not liked," Riley said. "But this is our job, and we've been doing it for centuries. I don't know how to explain it, but this is not my definition of a hero, not at all."
Nine members of the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company unit were killed, while Riley and five others — including Pfc. Jessica Lynch (search) — were taken prisoner. As the senior soldier among those captured, it was up to Riley to surrender.
When asked what it was like to be held captive, Riley said that "on a scale of 1 to 10, I rate it about 2,000 and 20 billion. It was sheer terror the whole time." He said he lost about 30 pounds during the three weeks he was detained.
Lynch was rescued from an Iraqi hospital on April 1, while Riley and the six other POWs, including two Apache helicopter pilots who were not part of the 507th, were released April 13.
"They came in and said, 'If you're an American, stand up.' I will always remember them saying that. It was overwhelming," Riley said.
Gaining his freedom was bittersweet, though, because that was when Riley learned that his sister, Mary, 29, had died while he was a captive. She died March 28 after two months in a coma with a rare neurological disorder.
"That was an emotional overload (for me). It was sad, but life goes on," he said.
Pennsauken residents honored Riley with a parade Sunday and Gov. James E. McGreevey gave him a medal.
"I never expected to be here, not in front of all you people," he told the crowd. "That was the last thing I was thinking about over there. It's just great to be back here in the U.S.A."