Jessica Lynch Returns Home

Jessica Lynch Returns Home

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On July 22, 2003, U.S. Army Private Jessica Lynch, a prisoner-of-war who was rescued from an Iraqi hospital, receives a hero’s welcome when she returns to her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia. The story of the 19-year-old supply clerk, who was captured by Iraqi forces in March 2003, gripped America; however, it was later revealed that some details of Lynch’s dramatic capture and rescue might have been exaggerated.

Lynch, who was born April 26, 1983, was part of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas. On March 23, 2003, just days after the U.S. invaded Iraq, Lynch was riding in a supply convoy when her unit took a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi forces near Nasiriya. Eleven American soldiers died and four others besides Lynch were captured.

Lynch, who sustained multiple broken bones and other injuries when her vehicle crashed during the ambush, was taken to an Iraqi hospital. On April 1, she was rescued by U.S. Special Forces who raided the hospital where she was being held. They also recovered the bodies of eight of Lynch’s fellow soldiers. Lynch was taken to a military hospital in Germany for treatment and then returned to the United States.

Lynch’s story garnered massive media attention and she became an overnight celebrity. Various reports emerged about Lynch’s experience, with some news accounts indicating that even after Lynch was wounded during the ambush she fought back against her captors. However, Lynch later stated that she had been knocked unconscious after her vehicle crashed and couldn’t remember the details of what had happened to her. She also said she had not been mistreated by the staff at the Iraqi hospital and they put up no resistance to her rescue. Critics–and Lynch herself–charged the U.S. government with embellishing her story to boost patriotism and help promote the Iraq war.

In August 2003, Lynch received a medical honorable discharge. She collaborated on a book about her experience, I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, which was released later that year. In April 2007, Lynch testified before Congress that she had falsely been portrayed as a “little girl Rambo” and the U.S. military had hyped her story for propaganda reasons. According to Lynch: “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroics of my fellow soldiers that day were, in fact, legendary.” She added: “The truth of war is not always easy to hear but is always more heroic than the hype."

READ MORE: The War on Terror

Jessica Lynch Returns to Family Home

Jessica Lynch, the injured 507th Maintenance Company Army private whose still not fully known ordeal in Iraq has become a model of U.S. heroism under fire, returned home to Palestine, W. Va., on Tuesday to the embrace of loved ones and cheers from well-wishers, reports Reuters.

“I had no idea so many people knew I was missing,” the supply clerk, 20, said in a brief prepared statement. The words were Lynch’s first public remarks since her capture by Iraqi forces on March 23 near the city of Nassiriya before her subsequent April 1 rescue by U.S. commandos.

Sitting in a wheelchair before a large American flag, dressed in an Army beret and uniform, Lynch — who has been awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War medals — expressed sorrow over the deaths of 11 comrades including another female soldier, “my best friend,” PFC Lori Ann Piestewa of Tuba City, Ariz. All had been killed when their unit fell into an ambush.

Lynch, whose home has been specially outfitted to accommodate her wheelchair, arrived in her Appalachian community aboard an Army Blackhawk helicopter with her family at her side, NBC News reports.

She later rode a red Mustang convertible on a five-mile trek to her home while hundreds of admirers waved flags, donned yellow ribbons and held up posters displaying her photograph.

West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise called it 𠇊 homecoming for the world.”

Jessica Lynch returns home to warm celebration

"Hi. Thank you for being here," Pfc. Jessica Lynch said yesterday from a wheelchair, dressed in a green Army dress uniform and beret. "It's great to be home. I would like to say thank you to everyone who hoped and prayed for my safe return."

In the four months since her unit was ambushed in southern Iraq, Lynch has become one symbol after another for a public grasping to understand the war and its aftermath.

First, she was the country girl from Appalachia, a gutsy teenager who wanted to be a kindergarten teacher and joined the Army for its educational opportunities, only to end up missing in action.

Then, with her dramatic nighttime rescue from an Iraqi hospital, she provided a ray of hope at a time when Americans were bludgeoned with bad news from the front. As stories about her capture and rescue emerged from anonymous military sources, the small-framed Lynch became a female Rambo who emptied her gun against her attackers before being shot, stabbed and captured.

And when those details were revealed to be wrong, and further questions arose about whether her rescuers encountered any Iraqi resistance when they entered the hospital, critics accused the Pentagon of embellishing its war reporting and using Lynch as propaganda.

"It threw everybody off course in not knowing what to believe," said Emzy Ashby, who owns The What-Not Shop, the only store in Lynch's hometown of Palestine (population 300), which sells just about everything, most of it second-hand, from bug killer to lamps and chairs.

Lynch is said to have little memory of her captivity.

But in Wirt County, a stretch of rolling green hills and streams that meander through lush hollows, people closest to Lynch say they have little interest in Jessica the symbol. They choose instead to focus on the young woman, now 20, who left months ago solidly on two feet and now — even after months of treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for broken bones and spinal and head injuries — can walk only short distances with the help of a walker and needs a wheelchair for anything longer.

"Actually, we don't care what the government said or what they didn't say, or what was right and what was wrong — for us it's all about Jessi," said Pam Nicolais, Lynch's cousin.

Eleven soldiers from Lynch's convoy, including her best friend, Spc. Lori Piestewa, died when their Humvee crashed on March 23 after being a hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. U.S. special operations forces rescued Lynch from a Nasiriyah hospital April 1. Five other soldiers from her unit, the 507th Maintenance Company, who were captured and held separately from Lynch were freed April 13.

"I'm proud to be a soldier in the Army. I'm proud to have served with the 507th," Lynch said yesterday. "I'm happy that some of the soldiers I served with made it home alive. It hurts that some of my company didn't."

She thanked her doctors, the Iraqi citizens and U.S. special forces soldiers who "helped save my life," and she mourned Piestewa.

"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."

She 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. "When I wanted to quit PT (physical therapy), you kept me going. And you're my inspiration and I love you."

During the parade, Lynch smiled and waved to the crowd as she sat alongside Contreras and her brother — also a soldier — in the back of a red Mustang convertible. Decked out in new black-and-orange uniforms, the Wirt County High School band serenaded her.

Traci Lancaster, 28, came out to the parade to see her neighbor.

"I feel all the men and women over there are fighting for the future of my children. I'd do anything I could to honor them," Lancaster said. "If that means standing for five hours to see Jessi, that's just fine."

After the parade, Lynch returned to a home that has been renovated by the community to make it handicapped-accessible, adding ramps, a bathroom and a new first-floor bedroom.

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.

A Hero's Homecoming

AP A banner welcoming home Pfc. Jessica Lynch stretches across a road in Elizabeth, W.Va., July 18, 2003. Using 1,600 yards of donated lawn chair material, town workers have hung hundreds of yellow bows along the five miles Lynch's motorcade will drive on her journey's final leg from Elizabeth to her hometown of Palestine.

AP Lori Reynolds, 11, and her mother, Linda Reynolds, look at the mass of media representatives who've converged on Elizabeth, W.Va., July 22, 2003, to cover the homecoming of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Hundreds of out-of-towners, many of them journalists, have brought cash, along with unprecedented traffic, to this county seat of about 1,000.

AP Charlotte Curfman greets customers at the Exxon station in Elizabeth, W.Va., July 20, 2003. Residents waited with open arms to welcome back hometown sweetheart Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

AP Earl Gerlagh, right, and Todd Somerville, work on sealing the parking lot at Dick's Market in Elizabeth, W.Va., July 20, 2003.

AP The Wirt County Courthouse in Elizabeth, W.Va., awaits the homecoming of former Army POW Jessica Lynch, July 15, 2003. A mound of letters, gifts and money sent to the courthouse for Lynch are being stored in a jail cell.

AP Helen Burns talks about former POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch's homecoming, July 15, 2003, in Elizabeth, W.Va. Burns said Lynch requested that she make her a chocolate pie for her homecoming. "I said I would make it for her and I will take it to her," Burns said. "Everyone is proud of her and they just want to be where she is."

AP Kevin Merrill, bottom, and Dale Clark hang a welcome home banner for Pfc. Jessica Lynch in her hometown of Palestine, W. Va., July 21, 2003.

AP Hester "Butch" Starcher and Leroy Carpenter hang a welcome home banner for Pfc. Jessica Lynch in her hometown of Palestine, W.Va., July 21, 2003. Lynch is being welcomed back to the rolling green hills of West Virginia's smallest county.

AP/Parkersburg News & Sentinel The home of former POW Jessica Lynch in seen undergoing renovation June 19, 2003, in Palestine, W.Va. The effort began with the idea of adding a handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom to the two-bedroom home. But volunteers collected so much donated supplies that they went ahead and remodeled the entire house.

AP Volunteers carry donated furniture into the remodeled home of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, in Palestine, W.Va., July 21, 2003. With only 5,873 residents, Wirt County had West Virginia's largest unemployment figures in June 2003, at 15.1 percent. But many residents haven't let hard financial times get in the way of their generosity.

AP Pfc. Jessica Lynch receives the Purple Heart from Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, U.S. Army surgeon general, July 21, 2003, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, DC. She was also awarded the Bronze Star and Prisoner of War medals. The Bronze Star is given for meritorious combat service, a Purple Heart is usually awarded to combat wounded, and the POW for being held captive during wartime.

AP Holly Wright, 14, and her grandmother Lori Siers gather to get a good view at Sportsman Park, where Jessica Lynch was scheduled to address the media upon arrival for her homecoming in Elizabeth, W.Va., July 22, 2003.

AP Spencer Foster, 5, wears a T-shirt that reads, "Thank You Jessica, " as he and his mother Susan Foster arrive from Marietta, W.Va., to see the homecoming parade of Pfc. Jessica Lynch in Elizabeth, W.Va., July 22, 2003. Hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people were expected to line the route of the military motorcade that would take her home after her plane lands in Elizabeth.

AP Jessica Lynch makes remarks from a wheelchair in the town park, Elizabeth, W. Va., July 22, 2003. "I'd like to say thank you to everyone who helped and prayed for my return," said Lynch.

AP Pfc. Jessica Lynch is wheeled from the stage by her brother, Spc. Greg Lynch, Jr., after making her first public remarks since her ordeal, July 22, 2003. She is able to walk with the aid of a walker but still having trouble standing.

AP/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Pfc. Jessica Lynch is joined by brother, Spc. Greg Lynch, Jr., right, and boyfriend Sgt. Ruben Contreras, lower right, in a motorcade through Elizabeth, W.Va., July 22, 2003. Lynch was wearing a promise ring given to her by Contreras, and in a television interview a cousin said the two planned to marry.

AP A large yellow ribbon adorns a tree in front of the driveway to former POW Jessica Lynch's home in Palestine, W.Va., Tuesday July 22, 2003.

AP Pfc. Jessica Lynch is greeted by family members as she arrives home in a parade car flanked by her brother Gregory Jr., back seat left, and Ruben Contreras, back seat right, in Palestine, W.Va., July 22, 2003.

AP Former POW Jessica Lynch waves from her front porch as she arrives home with her father Gregory Lynch Sr., center, and mother Deadra, right, and grandmother Nima Lynch, left, in Palestine, W.Va., July 22, 2003. Click here for pictures from her rescue.

Former POW Jessica Lynch on Surviving Captivity, Getting Through the Dark Days, and Fulfilling Her Lifelong Dream

For Jessica Lynch, every waking moment serves as a haunting reminder of all she endured as America’s first prisoner of war in the early days of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.

Things that had once been second nature now have to be done methodically and with great effort. Each morning begins with pulling on a leg brace. She cannot sit for too long without fiery jabs in the parts of her back that broke. Her left side is still riddled with the strange discomfort of numbness from nerve damage. That is the side where her foot was crushed, and that has ignited a host of complications derived from overcompensating on her right side.

Most recently, hope was dashed by disappointment after Lynch suffered an allergic reaction to a new, specially crafted leg brace. Only she harbors no antagonism, no bitterness, no hate.

“I try not to complain about the physical elements there are so many people out there dealing with the same things or worse. I have learned to accept this is who I am, and I am okay with it,” Lynch said spiritedly in a recent interview with Coffee or Die Magazine.

Her life 18 years after becoming a household name is one of vivacity and gratitude, focused on imparting pearls of acquired wisdom to lift up as many of her brethren as possible. Having just turned 38 this week, she has taken on a long-term substitute teaching role for third graders in her tiny hometown in West Virginia — a culmination of a lifelong dream.

“Ever since I was 5, teaching was what I wanted to do. It was my kindergarten teacher who inspired me I looked up to her and the heart that she put into it. She was so loving and caring,” Lynch said, adding that they are still in contact today. “So when I (retired) from the military, I went back to get my education. And teaching has been keeping me busy ever since.”

To the students, she is just Ms. Lynch. These are the moments when she can forget the war and what happened. But to much of America, there are many layers of mystery about the former soldier. In addition to her classroom duties, Lynch shares her nuggets of survival or seeks to uplift others on the speaking circuit across the country.

Indeed, her story is as searing as it is uplifting.

Lynch’s journey to becoming a US soldier was an abrupt one. A recruiter visited her family home in the late spring after she graduated high school in 2001, and both she and her brother decided to sign on as a means of seeing the world and to ease the college debt burden off her parents. The week after the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, Lynch was in basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Around Thanksgiving the following year, rumbles of another war — this time not in the jagged topography of Afghanistan but the arid, oil-swathed plains of Iraq — started circulating. Never in Lynch’s wildest dreams could she have imagined she and her 507th Maintenance Company would soon be one of the first on the ground just as President George W. Bush declared war.

Three days later, her unit embarked on a trip toward Baghdad in a convoy of vehicles. Trouble with their navigation equipment spurred Lynch’s rear supply vehicle to be separated from the others. Suddenly, as they neared the southern city of Nasiriyah, the horrors of an ambush unfolded. As Lynch would later learn, 11 from her company were killed in the skirmish.

A rocket-propelled grenade smashed through the rear of the vehicle, causing it to crash into an 18-wheeler and Lynch — who suffered crushing injuries to her legs and feet, and a broken back — to lose consciousness.

When she awoke, the 19-year-old private first class was surrounded by soldiers of then-dictator Saddam Hussein. Her POW nightmare had begun, and the events to follow would not be lost to the fog of war but — to this day — remain vivid in her mind.

“I never had any real training on how to survive as a POW. It wasn’t anything they had put us through back then. I was just thankful that I was [eventually] handed over from the bad Iraqis, to three Iraqi men who were kind of my guardians,” Lynch said softly. “I just knew with each day passing that I was becoming weaker and weaker due to the injuries, no food, and not much water. I was all alone, I was mentally exhausted, and that takes a toll on you.”

Lynch had been taken to Nasiriyah’s Saddam Hussein General Hospital, where doctors surgically removed her femur and replaced it with an unsterilized rod built for a man — which would set off another chain of medical maladies. But the most chilling moment, for her, came when she was taken down to an operating room. Doctors were preparing to amputate her leg.

“I just started begging and crying and pleading for them to stop and not do it,” Lynch said softly. “That was my lowest point. After that, I was afraid to sleep or even close my eyes because of what they might do.”

A few days later, the Iraqis around her vowed to return her to a US-manned checkpoint. Instead, she was loaded up into an ambulance and dumped at an abandoned building where there was no electricity or water or even faint sounds of children playing or the noises of nature, of life.

“I remember the Iraqis leaving me. At that point, I didn’t know whether it was my opportunity to scream and yell and draw attention to myself in the hopes that Americans might be near,” Lynch recalled. “Or whether I should just lay in silence. I feared I could attract the wrong attention, and I didn’t want to end up in the hands of the militiamen all over again. So I chose just to lay there quietly, basically, as night turned into day and day turned into night.”

The ensuing minutes melted into hours and then into days. Lynch had no sense of time, of location, as if existing on the thin crag that distinguishes the living from the dead.

“I did not know if I would ever be found. It felt like nine years lying there all alone, or just one big bad day,” she said.

Yet even through the endless physical pain and psychological ups and downs and unknowns, one thing Lynch never wholly lost as she held on in the achingly still building was hope.

“In my head, I was telling myself to hold out for one more day and then one more day. At one point, I thought the odds were against me, and I wasn’t going to make it,” she continued. “But I thought of my family, my friends. I created scenes in my head of what they would be thinking. I always tried to make those scenes as positive as I could.”

The sky changed from the night gray to light once again. But this time, men came and moved Lynch back to the hospital. Her memories are foggy, but she recalled hearing the soundtrack change: Bombs cracked the sky outside in what was a diversionary attack conducted by US Marines. The US military had received information as to Lynch’s whereabouts, and a team of special operations forces had swooped in on a rescue mission.

“It had all felt unreal, these men standing beside me and telling me they were Americans and that they were there to take me home,” she said slowly, unwrapping each moment. “And then it hit home that I might actually make it home.”

It was April 1, 2003, and Lynch had made it through nine arduous days as a POW. Her rescue marked the first of an American prisoner of war since World War II and the first of a woman. Lynch has tried to stay in communication with some of those saviors, among them Army Rangers and Navy SEALs. She’s lost some contact due to the passage of time, but her thoughts are with them daily.

In addition to a lengthy stay at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and countless medical procedures, the young Lynch — a notoriously shy, rural-raised country girl — had to deal with the immediate and dizzying onslaught of overnight fame.

“It was hectic. It was never my dream to go out and be a Nashville star or an LA actor. I never wanted to be out in public. But things just took off,” she said. “I was still in hospital and getting ready to get out of the military, and suddenly I had a lawyer and a publicist and an agent and a book deal and all things. I didn’t know what to make of it.”

Life is far quieter now, yet still tinged with occasional deluges of emotion.

“I am so thankful to be surrounded by so many people that have lifted me through the down days. I am human just like everyone else, and there are days when I want to kick and scream, and there are a lot of good friends I can call and vent to,” Lynch said. “But there are times too when I really like to be alone. I know a lot of people say you shouldn’t be alone in hard times. But for me, that is when I need to be alone to process the thoughts and feelings on my own terms.”

Lynch stressed, however, that if those dark days go on too long, those who she loves the most know to step in with a helping hand. And although she has long retired her Army uniform, Lynch’s life is still one dedicated to service — engaging with the veteran community and raising awareness of the military missing. As it stands, the remains of nearly 82,000 Americans are still unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, or DPAA. DPAA estimates that 75% of the disappeared are across the Indo-Pacific region, with more than 40,000 presumed to have been lost at sea.

Lynch is also working on her second book, this one focused on leadership and the lessons learned along the way.

“I can’t turn back time and change what I went through, and I wish that my comrades were still here, but my motto has always been about perseverance,” Lynch said. “To push through the obstacles that stand in your way and never give up. I have learned not to sweat the small stuff.”

Above all, the upbeat and bubbly veteran has no hesitation in highlighting that her most important role is as a mother to her now 14-year-old daughter Dakota Ann, named in honor of her close friend Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, who lost her life from injuries received in the 2003 ambush.

“[Dakota] has learned about what happened mostly through speeches I have given. I didn’t talk about a lot of the details at a young age. But I have never kept anything from her,” Lynch said. “She has been very quick to pick up a lot on it and now understands a lot more.”

Dakota doesn’t have any current plans to follow in her mother’s military footsteps but is also inspired to serve in a different way.

“She is pretty set on becoming a physical therapist. She has been with me through all of the healing, all of the appointments, her whole life,” Lynch said. “And always wanted to nurture and take care of me. Now, she hopes someday to help others the same way.”

Jessica Lynch Fast Facts

Here is a look at the life of Jessica Lynch, motivational speaker and former prisoner of war.


Birth date: April 26, 1983

Birth name: Jessica Dawn Lynch

Birth place: Palestine, West Virginia

Father: Gregory Lynch, a truck driver

Mother: Deadra Lynch

Children: with Wes Robinson: Dakota Ann

Education: West Virginia University at Parkersburg, B.A. in Elementary Education, 2011 West Virginia University at Parkersburg, M.A. in Communications Studies, 2014

Other Facts

Enlisted in the army after graduating from high school.

In December 2002, she signed up for a four year extension in the military. She had already received one promotion and was scheduled for another in November 2003.

Was a supply clerk with the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss, Texas.

An Iraqi lawyer alerted American soldiers to Jessica’s whereabouts, and helped with planning her rescue. He and his family were later granted asylum.

Lynch has appeared in several Christian-themed movies.


March 23, 2003 – Taken prisoner of war (POW) near Nasiriyah, Iraq, after the convoy she is traveling in is ambushed. The convoy had taken several wrong turns and fallen behind. Lynch was riding in a Humvee when it was hit by rocket-propelled grenades and crashed into a US truck that had jackknifed in front of it.

April 1, 2003 – Is rescued from Saddam Hussein Hospital in Nasiriyah by US Special Forces and taken to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

April 3, 2003 – Has her first surgery at a hospital in Germany, an operation to repair injuries to her back.

April 12, 2003 – Returns to the United States to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

July 21, 2003 – Is presented with the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and POW medals for her service and captivity in Iraq during a ceremony at Walter Reed.

July 22, 2003 – Lynch is discharged from Walter Reed and is brought home to West Virginia via Blackhawk helicopter and motorcade for the last five miles. Cheering crowds line the route of her motorcade.

August 22, 2003 – Is honorably discharged from the Army for medical reasons.

September 2, 2003 – Agrees to a one million dollar book deal with publisher Alfred A. Knopf.

November 10, 2003 – “I Am a Soldier, Too,” Lynch’s biography by Rick Bragg, goes on sale.

November 11, 2003 – Lynch’s first television interview airs. It is a 90-minute interview on ABC’s “Primetime” with Diane Sawyer.

January 19, 2007 – Gives birth to a baby girl she names Dakota Ann Robinson, in honor of Lynch’s best friend, Army Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa of Tuba City, Arizona, who was the first woman to be killed in combat in Iraq.

April 24, 2007 – Lynch testifies before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about misinformation surrounding her capture and rescue in 2003 and the effect it had on her.

Jessica Lynch

The story of Jessica Lynch’s rescue was one of the most covered story lines during the war in Iraq. The young soldier from West Virginia was held up as an icon of the strength and spirit of the American volunteer soldier. Her rescue mission was called a daring, made-for-Hollywood story. In recent weeks, however, the stories about Lynch’s capture, her time spent captive, and her rescue have been questioned. Many claim that the original reports were filled with inaccuracies that benefited the US government by creating positive feelings about the war. Below is a detailed chronology of the major stories in the evolution of the Lynch saga.

This chronology and analysis was prepared for PEJ by journalist Dante Chinni.

The Backstory
How the Story Developed
An Assessment
A Day-by-Day Look at the Story’s Changes

The Backstory
Not quite two weeks into the war in Iraq, some of the media’s coverage of the fighting had taken a negative turn. In the newspapers and on television, experts were beginning to question whether the United States had sent sufficient manpower to handle the Iraqis, who were fighting harder and more cagily than expected. So were some senior commanders in the field. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld complained about media “mood swings.” Peter Arnett, who was appearing on NBC and MSNBC, went on Iraqi television and claimed the US had underestimated the forces they were up against and were having to redraw their battle plans.

Into this mix came an extremely heartening bit of news. On April 1, Private first class Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old army maintenance worker who had been captured in an Iraqi ambush on March 23, was rescued from Saddam Hospital. In a night raid special operations forces entered the hospital and removed Lynch who was taken to a nearby helicopter and flown to safety. The story was heralded on front pages and newscasts across the country. And a picture of Lynch, looking tired, but grateful lying on a stretcher with a folded American flag draped over her, flooded the airwaves.

How the Story Developed
In the early evening of April 1, the night of the rescue, the 24-hour news networks broke in with a briefing from US CENTCOM in which it was revealed that the military had rescued a “U.S. Army prisoner of war held captive in Iraq.” In the days and weeks following Lynch’s rescue, stories about how she was captured and what happened after her capture began to circulate. The day after the rescue, April 2, the Associated Press quoted “officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity” who said Lynch had “at least one gunshot wound.” That same day the New York Times cited “an Army official” as saying that Lynch “had been shot multiple times.” On April 3, a front-page story in the Washington Post cited unnamed US officials and said that Lynch “fought fiercely” and that she sustained gunshot and stab wounds. “She was fighting to the death,” the official was quoted as saying in the story. “She did not want to be taken alive.”

That story appears to be the genesis of a spate of stories that accepted the Post sequence of events. Many articles focused on the Rambo-like firefight Lynch reportedly engaged in — some even cited her valiant fighting as proof that women belonged in combat zones. Some stories went further saying she had been abused or denied basic care by the Iraqis who captured and tended to her. Several accounts said she had been “saved” by a courageous Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed Rehaief who risked his life to tell US troops where Lynch was.

Within days, conflicting accounts began to appear simultaneously. Some wire and newspaper accounts went with the Post account and alleged Lynch had been shot and stabbed and cited unnamed surgeons who had cared for her or family members. Other stories denied that she had been shot or stabbed. Those stories cited a specific person, the commander of the hospital in Landstuhl, Germany where Lynch was treated. Interestingly though, given the choice between the two stories, many news organizations chose the more theatric set of circumstances, even though the other version of events had better sourcing. For instance, the April 14 Newsweek, which made Lynch its cover subject, said how Lynch was injured remained a mystery and briefly reported that the hospital said she had not been stabbed or shot. But in the next sentence, the magazine reported that “Later that day, though, surgeons discovered she had been shot — and according to family spokesperson in West Virginia, Dan Little, her wounds were ‘consistent with low-velocity small arms.'” The magazine then went on for two paragraphs outlining what might have happened to her.

On April 15, a Washington Post story questioned the paper’s own earlier account. On April 27 a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story called into question many of the stories from the war, including those around Lynch. And on May 4 the Toronto Star essentially laid out the entire revised account of the Lynch saga after a series of interviews with the hosptial staff where Lynch was treated in Iraq. Still, despite these pieces, the early version of the Lynch story dominated until the UK newspaper The Guardian published a lengthy deconstruction of the Lynch story written by a BBC reporter on May 15. On May 18, the BBC aired a documentary on which the Guardian article was based, reviewing the incident in depth. The BBC account began to raise questions in the American press.

On June 17, the Washington Post ran a story refuting much of what appeared in its April 3 story. Though the new piece still relied heavily on unnamed US officials, it maintained that Lynch was not stabbed or shot, that she had not killed any Iraqis because of a gun jam, and that the hospital US forces raided was unguarded.

An Assessment
Nearly two months after her capture much is still open to speculation. But some specifics have become clear. Lynch was never shot or stabbed, according to the military. For whatever reason, possibly a gun jam, the military says she did not engage in a pitched battle with the Iraqis — though it has not been made clear how anyone would know this since all those driving with Lynch died in the ambush. The Iraqis that had been guarding the hospital holding Lynch had in fact left, meaning that special forces troops who went in did not face any significant resistance when they arrived to extract her. Mohammed Rehaief’s exact role is still unclear. US troops verified that he came to them with the information on Lynch, but his story that a man dressed in black interrogated and slapped Lynch was refuted by hospital staff. Furthermore, while Rehaief claims he was in the hospital to visit his wife Iman who is a nurse, other hospital staffers say there is no nurse married to a lawyer or named Iman who works there.

The one thing that can be taken away from the coverage of the Lynch story is that when the media are hungry for a story and given conflicting accounts they will more likely latch on to the more sensational version of events.

A Day-by-day Look at the Story’s Changes

The story breaks
April 1, 2003. An Associated Press story reports that Lynch has been rescued and says that an army spokesman “did not know whether Lynch had been wounded or when she might return to the United States.”

The wounds become gunshot wounds
April 2. The New York Times runs a story on the celebrations in Lynch’s hometown and reports that, “Details of what happened to Private Lynch were scarce. An Army official said Tuesday night that Private Lynch had been shot multiple times. The official said that it had not been determined whether she was shot during the rescue attempt or before it.”

— An Associated Press roundup story mentions Lynch in the final paragraphs. “Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said she was suffering from broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.”

Lynch as female Rambo
April 3. The day after it’s initial story, the Washington Post runs a story, “‘She Was Fighting to the Death’ Details Emerging of W. Va. Soldier’s Capture and Rescue,” that recounts Lynch’s ordeal. The account is reprinted in other newspapers.

“Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk, continued firing at the Iraqis even after she sustained multiple gunshot wounds and watched several other soldiers in her unit die around her in fighting March 23, one official said. The ambush took place after a 507th convoy, supporting the advancing 3rd Infantry Division, took a wrong turn near the southern city of Nasiriyah.

‘She was fighting to the death,’ the official said. ‘She did not want to be taken alive.’

Lynch was also stabbed when Iraqi forces closed in on her position, the official said, noting that initial intelligence reports indicated that she had been stabbed to death…

Several officials cautioned that the precise sequence of events is still being determined, and that further information will emerge as Lynch is debriefed. Reports thus far are based on battlefield intelligence, they said, which comes from monitored communications and from Iraqi sources in An Nasiriyah whose reliability has yet to be assessed.”

— The (NY) Daily News reports that, “Jessica was being tortured. That was the urgent word from an Iraqi man who alerted American troops where to find Pfc. Jessica Lynch – and her injuries seem to bear out the allegation. … Her broken bones are a telltale sign of torture, said Amy Waters Yarsinske, a former Navy intelligence officer and an expert on POW and MIA treatment. ‘It’s awfully hard to break both legs and an arm in a truck accident,’ Yarsinske said.

— The Los Angeles Times reports Lynch was “flown to a US military hospital at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where she was reported to be in stable condition, recovering from injuries said to include broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.”

Questions arise about her wounds
April 4. The Associated Press reports that doctors told Lynch’s father, “she had not been shot or stabbed during her ordeal. ‘We have heard and seen reports that she had multiple gunshot wounds and a knife stabbing. The doctor has not seen any of this,’ Gregory Lynch Sr. said.”

— But later that day, a different AP story reports that:

“Dan Little, a cousin who held a news conference Friday night in West Virginia, said he had talked with her doctors and they had determined she had been shot. He said they found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds.’

They also found shrapnel, Little said.”

These two conflicting accounts would go on to give the story of Lynch’s wounds new life.

— The New York Times in a story on TV coverage of the war reports that, “Pfc. Jessica Lynch shifted overnight from victim to teenage Rambo: all the cable news shows ran with a report from The Washington Post that the 19-year-old P.O.W. had been shot and stabbed yet still kept firing at enemy soldiers. … Later yesterday, her father said she had not been shot or stabbed.”

Enter the Iraqi lawyer who saved her life
Several news organizations, including the Washington Post, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Seattle Times and Los Angeles Times have quotes from interviews with an Iraqi lawyer named Mohammed who reportedly led the special forces to Jessica Lynch. Some accounts tell of Mohammed’s witnessing a black-clad Iraqi paramilitary who interrogated and slapped Lynch that spurred him to action.

April 5. An AP story reports that there is mystery about how Lynch was injured, but deep in the piece says, “Lynch’s family in West Virginia said doctors had determined she’d been shot. They found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds,’ said her mother, Deadra Lynch.”

The story begins to grow
April 7. The April 14 Newsweek hits the stands with Lynch on the cover. The piece briefly mentions that the commander of the hospital in Landstuhl Germany, where Lynch was being treated, says Lynch was not stabbed or shot. But then goes with the Lynch family account, including the part about “low-velocity small arms.” “The unpleasant implication was that she might have been shot after she’d been captured, rather than wounded in combat,” Newsweek reports. The account also raises the possibility of mistreatment in the Iraqi hospital and quotes her father as saying “she survived for part of her time in the hospital on nothing but orange juice and crackers.”

April 10. The New Orleans Times-Picayune runs a piece about Lynch’s boot camp friend that pushes the boundaries of Lynch’s experience further. “When she heard that Pfc. Jessica Lynch survived being shot, beaten, then left for dead in Nasiriyah by Iraqi soldiers who had killed eight of her fellow soldiers, Pfc. Marcia Wright of New Orleans believed every word.”

The questioning of what actually happened begins
April 15. The Washington Post runs a piece on page A17 that questions its earlier account. A physician from the Iraqi hospital that treated Lynch calls the rescue “a big show. … There were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.” At the hospital, he said, “She was given special care, more than the Iraqi patients.”

April 18. An AP story begins to back off some of the earlier accounts of Lynch’s story. The AP report says the Washington Post story on the Lynch gunfight, “has not been confirmed, military officials said Friday.”

“One account said the soldier who emptied her weapon had been shot and stabbed with a bayonet. Lynch wasn’t stabbed, which suggests the soldier in question was Pfc. Lori Piestewa, 23, Lynch’s roommate and the first woman to die in combat during the war, one official said. …

[Lynch] was listed in satisfactory condition Friday, with a head wound, a spinal injury and fractures to her right arm, both legs, her right foot and ankle. Gunshots may have caused open fractures on her upper right arm and lower left leg, according to the hospital.”

April 20. The Washington Post runs a column by Ombudsman Michael Getler outlining the confusion and conflicting accounts behind the story. “My initial reaction, even before the comments of Rubenstein (the head of the hospital where Lynch was taken in Germany) and Lynch’s father, was that a more qualified approach in the headline and the lead of the story was merited because of the cautions in the article and because of the thin sourcing used.”

April 27. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch runs a long piece looking at the stories that the media got wrong in Iraq, including a large section on Lynch:

“News accounts based on military sources said that the 19-year-old Lynch, a supply clerk with the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company, had been shot repeatedly and stabbed when Iraqi forces ambushed her unit on March 23 and that she was then tortured before Navy Seals and Army Rangers stormed the hospital April 1 and brought her out.

Key elements in the story appear to have been wrong. Lynch’s father and her Army doctor have both said there is no evidence that she was shot or stabbed. There is as yet no substantiation of any torture. Doctors at the hospital say that when the rescue team swooped in the building was undefended militia forces had fled the day before.”

May 4. The Toronto Star runs a 1,500-word piece on the Lynch rescue strongly questioning the accepted account:

“Branded on to our consciousness by media frenzy, the flawless midnight rescue of 19-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch hardly bears repeating even a month after the fact.

Precision teams of U.S. Army Rangers and Navy Seals, acting on intelligence information and supported by four helicopter gunships, ended Lynch’s nine-day Iraqi imprisonment in true Rambo style, raising America’s spirits when it needed it most.

All Hollywood could ever hope to have in a movie was there in this extraordinary feat of rescue – except, perhaps, the truth.”

The reconsideration of the story picks up steam
May 15. In a piece by a BBC reporter, the London daily The Guardian deconstructs the Lynch story in an 1,800 word story that calls her account “one of the most stunning pieces of news management yet conceived.” The story quoted several Iraqi sources who claimed that Lynch had not been shot or stabbed, that she received good care, that the US military had been told the Iraqi paramilitary guards had left the hospital before the raid, and that two days before the raid the hospital had tried to return Lynch to US forces nearby, but were fired upon and returned to the hospital.

May 18. The BBC runs a documentary on the Lynch’s capture and rescue. Based on the Guardian story, it reiterates its charges and creates a more serious round of questioning about what really happened to Lynch.

May 19. On his website journalist Andrew Sullivan attacks the BBC piece on his website. “Meanwhile, the latest BBC smear is against Private Jessica Lynch. Glenn has the goods. I remember the reporter, John Kampfner, from my Oxford days. He was a unreconstructed far-lefty. No doubt these days he’s a reconstructed one.”

May 23. The Washington Post runs a piece by ombudsman Michael Getler about the New York Times and Jayson Blair with a few paragraphs about the Lynch story and the Post:

“In the Lynch case, for instance, The Post sent a correspondent to the hospital in Iraq where she had been held. Doctors there said she had not been shot or stabbed but had suffered broken bones. Other stories quoted the commander of the military hospital in Germany where Lynch had been taken. He also said she had been neither shot nor stabbed. Her father, Greg Lynch Sr., said substantially the same thing.

But none of those stories got the play of the first, and none of them specifically said, ‘Look, folks, we’re not so sure anymore.’ Instead, the caveats and doubts were folded into other stories. The reader, like a CIA analyst, had to read everything to understand what The Post was saying. It seemed to be backing off its original account, but not in a forthright way.”

May 26. The Chicago Tribune runs a piece that reexamines the Lynch story. The paper sent staff back to Nasiriyah to look at the story from the ground up. Its conclusion: There was hyperbole on both sides of the story (the Lynch-as-hero and the Lynch-as-propaganda side). But the story says the Lynch saga is “the story of how a modern war icon is made and perhaps how easily journalists with different agendas accepted contradictory self-serving versions of what happened to her.”

On June 10, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer does a segment looking at “whether the American media too willingly accepted the story of the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch as presented by the Pentagon.”

June 17. In a lengthy front-page story, the Washington Post prints an investigation of its own April 3 story on Lynch. The new story finds:

“Lynch’s story is far more complex and different than those initial reports. … Lynch tried to fire her weapon, but it jammed, according to military officials familiar with the Army investigation. She did not kill any Iraqis. She was neither shot nor stabbed, they said. …

Two US officials with knowledge of the Army investigation said Lynch was mistreated by her captors. They would not elaborate. …

The Special Operations unit’s full-scale rescue of the private, while justified given the uncertainty confronting US forces as they entered the compound, ultimately was proven unnecessary. Iraqi combatants had left the hospital almost a day earlier, leaving Lynch in the hands of doctors and nurses who said they were eager to turn her over to Americans.”

— That afternoon, CNN airs stories that essentially recount the Post’s story. “According to the accounts that are now coming to light at the Pentagon, Private First Class Jessica Lynch got some very decent medical attention from the Iraqi doctors at the hospital in An- Nasariyah, where she was taken. … [I]t appears that all of her injuries were from that portion of the incident, that she did not suffer gunshot or stab wounds but rather very serious concussion fractures, if you will, from this incident.”

June 18 and after. Other news organizations, including the New York Times, raise questions about how the Post’s account made it into the paper. Some ask how much the government was pushing the story.

April 15, 2003: Washington Post Reports Lynch Neither Shot Nor Mistreated While in Iraqi Care

For the first time, a major American news organization runs an article on Army Private Jessica Lynch that questions the initial versions of her capture and rescue (see April 1, 2003), though it places the story towards the very back of its main section, on page A17. The Washington Post’s lede compares the US military’s version to “a Hollywood script” with “Hollywood dazzle” and “little need for real action.” The story is based on interviews with Iraqi doctors who treated Lynch. One, Haitham Gizzy, says of the US military: “They made a big show. It was just a drama. A big, dramatic show.” Gizzy and others at the hospital say that Iraqi soldiers and guerrilla fighters had fled the hospital the night before the US launched its rescue attempt. According to Mokhdad Abd Hassan, a hospital staffer, most of the fighters in the area, and the entire Ba’ath Party leadership, including the governor of the province, came to the hospital earlier that day, changed into civilian clothes, and fled. “They brought their civilian wear with them,” Hassan says. Pointing to green army uniforms still piled on the lawn, he says: “You can see their military suits. They all ran away, the same day.” Gizzy adds: “It was all the leadership. Even the governor and the director general of the Ba’ath Party.… They left walking, barefoot, in civilian wear.… [I]t look like an organized manner” of retreat. When the US rescue team arrived, Gizzy says: “there were no soldiers at our hospital, just the medical staff. There were just us doctors.” Like US doctors currently treating Lynch (see April 4, 2003), Gizzy says Lynch was neither shot nor stabbed, as initial accounts stated (see April 3, 2003). “It was a road traffic accident” that caused her wounds, Gizzy says. “There was not a drop of blood.… There were no bullets or shrapnel or anything like that.” At the hospital, he says, “She was given special care, more than the Iraqi patients.” [Washington Post, 4/15/2003] Subsequent media accounts will begin backing off of the claims of multiple gunshot wounds. [Project for Excellence in Journalism, 6/23/2003] Post ombudsman Michael Getler, who will write highly critical analyses of the newspaper’s coverage of the Lynch story (see May 25, 2003 and June 29, 2003), later notes that while the Post deserves recognition that it was one of the first media outlets to interview the Iraqi doctors and tell their side of the story, the newspaper chose to print this story “way back in the paper.” Since it “was based on Iraqi sources” and buried so deep in the paper, “it didn’t get the attention that it otherwise might have gotten.” He adds, “I think in general, the press was quite slow to try and go back on this story which seemed fishy, almost from the start.” [Democracy Now!, 7/23/2003]

Army Sgt. Ruben Contreras, former POW Jessica Lynch's boyfri

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Pfc. Jessica Lynch is loaded into a military helicopter on April 2, 2003, on her way out of Iraq. Lynch was rescued in an early morning raid on a hospital deep in Iraq.

Photo Credit: CENTCOM via Getty Images

The narratives in the Lynch rescue lack examples of such individual feats of heroism — the key factor in awarding the medals, Mears said. The leadership described in the citations is expected as a matter of duty and normally inappropriate for an award of valor.

Mears suggested that the timing of the awards, at the beginning of what was expected to be a short war, may have prompted senior leaders to push for them.

"This would potentially limit future opportunities for valor and associated recognition, perhaps spurring a race to submit recommendations before the end of perceived combat operations," Mears said. "Ironically, it's a safe bet that the same special operators who received those awards under seemingly dubious circumstances likely went on to participate in other operations with far more potential for heroism."

Lynch's rescue was the subject of congressional hearings and an investigation by the Pentagon Inspector General over concerns raised by members of Congress that it might have been staged for public relations purposes. In testimony in 2007, then-Inspector-General Thomas Gimble found that the rescue, which was filmed, was "a valid mission to recover a U.S. P.O.W. under combat conditions."

Lynch had been captured March 23, 2003, days after the invasion of Iraq, after her convoy got lost and was ambushed. Lynch was wounded and taken to a hospital in Nasiriyah, where she was rescued on April 1. Initial reports that Lynch fought her captors viciously turned out to be false she had been badly wounded in the ambush, and her weapon had jammed.

Lynch suffered shattered bones and a damaged spine in the attack. Her captors later sexually assaulted her. She was taken to Saddam Hussein General Hospital in the town and was being cared for there when the special operations force descended on the building and whisked her away.

The rescue operation involved Navy SEALs, Marines, Army Rangers and Air Force personnel. Gimble told Congress that the troops "received enemy fire from the hospital" and surrounding building but "neutralized" those forces without suffering casualties.

The Pentagon, in February, announced that it would review more than 1,000 service cross and Silver Star medals issued since Sept. 11, 2001, to determine if any were eligible for upgrade. Those medals are the second- and third-highest individual awards the military issues. The Medal of Honor is the highest.

Watch the video: Jessica Lynch: A Soldiers Homecoming. A WSAZ TV special on the return Jessica Lynch.