Her capture by Iraqi forces and rescue by U.S. Special Forces back in 2003 captivated the attention of a nation. The soldier from West Virginia, who looked even younger than her 19 years, captured hearts all around the world. Fifteen years later, Jessica Lynch shares her survivor’s story with Jennifer Abney in an exclusive 13 News interview.
“We’ve got friendlies in front of us,” is heard over the radio.
It was the rescue…
“Are you in any pain,” asked one of the rescuers?
Seen around the world…
“I’m still with you Jessica,” said one of the rescuers.
Of the soldier, who became a household name.
“You’re doing great Jessica, you’re doing wonderful, welcome back,” exclaimed a rescuer.
Jessica Lynch was just nineteen years old when she was injured and captured by Iraqi forces after her unit was ambushed.
“Waking up and seeing about five Iraqi men looking down at me,” stated Lynch.
That was Jessica’s first memory after the attack. She says her faith was critical in the days that followed.
“All my comrades were either killed or taken separately from me,” Lynch said. “Just being in the hospital, and being alone and not having anyone to talk to for nine days, the only one you can look toward is God. And, I think that kind of really saved me in a way that kept me going, kept me wanting to hang on just one more day.”
Her homecoming was unlike anything she could have imagined. It was marked with celebrations and fanfare, and the news conference where she made that famous declaration that later became the title of her book.
“I am an American soldier too,” said Lynch.
There were parades with motorcades and media appearances and being honored with some of the most recognized women of 2003.
“I like that it’s a diverse group of women. It’s everyone from Britney Spears to Vera Wang to Jessica Lynch to me,” said Ellen Degeneres at the 2003 Glamour Magazine Women of the Year Awards.
But it wasn’t just her bravery for surviving that harrowing experience that garnered Jessica fame and respect. It was her refusal from the beginning to go along with the false military accounts that she went down firing her weapon instead of being knocked unconscious in the attack.
“That’s not the truth,” Lynch said in a 2003 special. “That’s not what happened and I don’t want people believing that I am someone that I am not.”
“I could’ve easily taken credit for everything because my other four comrades were killed in my vehicle, so no one would’ve known,” said Lynch in 2018. “My family raised me to speak the truth and do what was right and I knew in my heart I had to set the record straight. Not only for my community but for the entire world that was watching.”
Fifteen years later, Jessica still bears the scars of that attack. She requires a brace on her leg to this day.
“It’s mainly because of where they broke my back,” Lynch exclaimed. “I have nerve damage all the way through the leg. And of course, when they removed my femur bone, I had total numbness through there and they broke the tibia. The whole bottom portion of the leg is basically nerve damaged. I have a brace to hold my foot up. I have what’s known as foot drop and it helps me walk.”
But help for her emotional scars has been even harder to come by. Jessica lost her best friend that day.
“The hardest part was knowing that Lori (Piestewa) died beside me and that I didn’t do anything to save her,” said Lynch. “Even though I was unconscious and there’s nothing that I could have done. There’s still a part of me that said what if? There’s definitely a survivors guilt there that I’ve had to live with. I don’t think I will ever get over that. They put me through therapy and have given me counselors to talk. There’s just nothing that makes me want to get rid of that. There’s something that just tells you to hang onto it. I know that I shouldn’t but I do”
“Lori had two children at the time, they are 18 and 19 now,” added Lynch.
But Jessica has found comfort by keeping her friend’s family close.
“I’m flying out to see them,” said Lynch. “So, in a couple of weeks, I will be with them.”
And, by honoring Lori and her Native America heritage through her own daughter, Dakota Ann.
“Dakota means friend in Native American and Ann was Lori’s middle name,” Lynch shared. “She actually has a Hopi name of ‘white bear girl’. It’s kind of neat that she was accepted into their Hopi family.”
Family, friends and faith have been the driving forces on Jessica Lynch’s long road to recovery which has take her around the world. Through unimaginable highs and lows, but amazingly along the way, she found joy in her journey.
“I am happy, exclaimed Lynch. “I’m not gonna lie, it’s taken fifteen years to get to this point. I certainly did not come home this way. It’s been a work in progress. But, I think one of the biggest things for me was just having the support, the support of West Virginia.”
So, what’s next for Jessica? She says, her dream project would be to work with a veteran’s organization or foundation to get more help for veterans coming home.
And, she is working on a new book focusing on leadership in more of a corporate setting. Now that she has completed her master’s degree, she says she would like to start traveling and doing even more public and motivational speaking.