fghjkl | 23.07.2003 19:02
ELIZABETH, W.Va. — Pfc. Jessica Lynch (search), whose capture and rescue in Iraq turned her into a national sweetheart, spent the first night in her own home since her ordeal, returning to a changed hometown and a shattered anonymity.
"We're here to see history," said Mary Elder, 52, who was one of 2,000 people who watched Lynch's motorcade slip through Elizabeth. Another supporter, Roszetta Martin, screamed, "Welcome home!" as Lynch passed by.
Lynch, a 20-year-old Army supply clerk with the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company (search), arrived in West Virginia on Tuesday aboard a Black Hawk helicopter and, after speaking to reporters in Elizabeth, rode a red convertible to her family home in Palestine.
"It's great to be home," the former POW said softly in her first public appearance. "I'd like to say thank you to everyone who helped and prayed for my return."
Lynch received a standing ovation as she entered the media tent in a wheelchair. She wore a beret and a crisp Army dress uniform adorned with medals awarded Monday, including the Bronze Star (search) and the Purple Heart (search).
"I'm proud to be a soldier in the Army. I'm proud to have served with the 507th. I'm happy that some soldiers I served with made it home alive. It hurts that some of my company didn't," Lynch said.
She read a statement thanking American and Iraqi doctors who treated her and mourned Lori Piestewa (search), a 23-year-old American who died in the same March 23 attack in which Lynch was injured.
"She was my best friend," Lynch said. "She fought beside me and it was an honor to have served with her. Lori will always remain in my heart."
Lynch beamed as she turned to Sgt. Ruben Contreras, whom family members identified as her boyfriend. Lynch was wearing a promise ring given to her by Contreras.
"Ruben, you never let me give up," she said. "You're my inspiration and I love you."
Lynch said that for a long time, she did not realize that her ordeal had captured the hearts of millions around the globe. "I read thousands of letters, many of them from children, who offered messages of hope and faith," she said.
Lynch's convoy was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in an attack that killed 11 soldiers. U.S. forces rescued Lynch at a Nasiriyah hospital April 1, while five other captured 507th soldiers, held apart from Lynch, were rescued April 13.
The home Lynch returned to was far different from the two-bedroom house where she grew up. Volunteers have been busy making the family home handicapped accessible to accommodate her injuries, nearly doubling its size.
She was greeted by a crowd on the front porch, and she was hugged by many as she was wheeled into her home, and out of public view again. She still faces months of rehabilitation from multiple broken bones and other injuries.
"We are all happy she is back," said Cleo Lawson, of Elizabeth. "Now just let the girl rest. It's going to be a new life for her."
Regina Ray, of Elizabeth, owner of Creative Gifts and Floral, said she hopes Lynch can cope with all the attention: "You think you are coming home to normal, and this town is not normal," she said.
And from the BBC:
Private Jessica Lynch became an icon of the war, and the story of her capture by the Iraqis and her rescue by US special forces became one of the great patriotic moments of the conflict.
But her story is one of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived.
There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound
Dr Harith a-Houssona
Private Lynch, a 19-year-old army clerk from Palestine, West Virginia, was captured when her company took a wrong turning just outside Nasiriya and was ambushed.
Nine of her comrades were killed and Private Lynch was taken to the local hospital, which at the time was swarming with Fedayeen. Eight days later US special forces stormed the hospital, capturing the "dramatic" events on a night vision camera.
They were said to have come under fire from inside and outside the building, but they made it to Lynch and whisked her away by helicopter.
Dr a-Houssona found no bullet wounds
Reports claimed that she had stab and bullet wounds and that she had been slapped about on her hospital bed and interrogated.
But Iraqi doctors in Nasiriya say they provided the best treatment they could for the soldier in the midst of war. She was assigned the only specialist bed in the hospital and one of only two nurses on the floor.
"I examined her, I saw she had a broken arm, a broken thigh and a dislocated ankle," said Dr Harith a-Houssona, who looked after her.
"There was no [sign of] shooting, no bullet inside her body, no stab wound - only road traffic accident. They want to distort the picture. I don't know why they think there is some benefit in saying she has a bullet injury."
Witnesses told us that the special forces knew that the Iraqi military had fled a day before they swooped on the hospital.
Dr Uday was surprised by the manner of the rescue
"We were surprised. Why do this? There was no military, there were no soldiers in the hospital," said Dr Anmar Uday, who worked at the hospital.
"It was like a Hollywood film. They cried 'go, go, go', with guns and blanks without bullets, blanks and the sound of explosions. They made a show for the American attack on the hospital - action movies like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan."
There was one more twist. Two days before the snatch squad arrived, Harith had arranged to deliver Jessica to the Americans in an ambulance.
But as the ambulance, with Private Lynch inside, approached a checkpoint American troops opened fire, forcing it to flee back to the hospital. The Americans had almost killed their prize catch.
Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen
General Vincent Brooks
When footage of the rescue was released, General Vincent Brooks, US spokesman in Doha, said: "Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen, loyal to a creed that they know that they'll never leave a fallen comrade."
The American strategy was to ensure the right television footage by using embedded reporters and images from their own cameras, editing the film themselves.
The Pentagon had been influenced by Hollywood producers of reality TV and action movies, notably the man behind Black Hawk Down, Jerry Bruckheimer.
Bruckheimer advised the Pentagon on the primetime television series "Profiles from the Front Line", that followed US forces in Afghanistan in 2001. That approached was taken on and developed on the field of battle in Iraq.
As for Private Lynch, her status as cult hero is stronger than ever. Internet auction sites list Jessica Lynch items, from an oil painting with an opening bid of $200 to a $5 "America Loves Jessica Lynch" fridge magnet.
But doctors now say she has no recollection of the whole episode and probably never will.
I know whcih I'd rather was my national broadcaster!!!