BOYS TOWN, Neb. – An Iraqi orphan credited with helping American troops capture insurgents in Baghdad started a new life Tuesday at Girls and Boys Town (search), the storied home for troubled youngsters.
Wearing a Boys Town windbreaker and holding a plastic American flag on a stick, 16-year-old "Johnny" — the nickname U.S. soldiers gave him — said he was happy to be in the United States.
"Everything's OK," he said. "Real cool."
Soldiers in Baghdad encountered the boy living on the streets and discovered that he knew a lot about the people behind insurgent attacks in the city, said Lt. Col. Brian McKiernan, commander of the 1st Armored Division's 4-27 Field Artillery Unit (search).
McKiernan said Tuesday he took Johnny into the unit as a janitor in September 2003 and the boy learned some English. The boy eventually helped U.S. troops apprehend more than 40 insurgents and seize several weapons caches, McKiernan said.
"He came to identify with the soldiers and admire them," McKiernan said. "He is a unique individual with a lot of heart, very loyal."
After learning that his unit was going to be transferred to Germany, McKiernan contacted Girls and Boys Town about helping the boy. McKiernan feared Johnny could be targeted by insurgents for helping the Americans.
"I thought if we could give him a better lot in life, a fresh start, it would be worth it," McKiernan said.
Johnny arrived in the United States on Monday and ate a McDonald's hamburger for his first American meal. At Girls and Boys Town, he will live with a couple who have seven other orphans and two of their own children.
For privacy reasons, Girls and Boys Town would not disclose the boy's name.
Although Johnny had little schooling in Iraq, he said he wants to get a high school diploma and join the U.S. Army.
Boys Town was founded in 1917 by the Rev. Edward Flanagan (search) — Father Flanagan — as a home for wayward boys. It was depicted in a 1938 movie starring Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.