For a nation embroiled in an unpopular war in early 2003, the dramatic story of U.S. Army Private Jessica Lynch was just what we needed. When the 507th Ordinance Maintenance Company veered off course and was ambushed by the enemy near Nasiriya, Iraq, it was said that the young soldier valiantly resisted her captors, even as her fellow comrades were killed and those who survived were taken as prisoners of war along with her.
The picture of patriotism that Lynch’s capture and ultimate rescue painted couldn’t have been more of a masterpiece. So gripping a tale could certainly sway the opinions of the American public hungry for some sort of justification, right? At least, according to Lynch and critics, that’s what the U.S. government was hoping.
Turns out, they said, Lynch’s story was embellished just enough to captivate the nation, and eight years ago on this date when the 19-year-old returned to her hometown of Palestine, W. Va., she returned a scarred and wounded teenager to a surprising hero’s welcome.
Where most would consider her just that, a hero, simply for the many sacrifices being a soldier requires, Lynch tried to downplay that label insofar as it applied to her alone above the many others, particularly those with whom she fought side by side.
One of her earliest attempts was a book titled “I Am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story” (Knopf, 2003), a collaborative effort written by noted Southern author Rick Bragg. The book and an article published in Time magazine the same year painted her as the typical teen from small-town America who joins the military to see the world. Even as she fought back from her crippling injuries, she maintained that goal of traveling to faraway places.
Life has become relatively quieter now for the young soldier who was decorated with medals and honorably discharged from the military. She went to college at West Virginia University, became a mother and has remained steadfast about keeping the memory of friend and fellow soldier Lori Piestewa alive. Piestewa was killed when the convoy in which she and Lynch were riding was ambushed near Nasiriya, and Lynch used her unlikely celebrity status to help her best friend’s family.
In 2005, she petitioned for Piestewa’s parents (who were also caring for her two children) to receive a new house, courtesy of the popular ABC show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” The network went so far as to build a veterans affairs building, as well, to help serve Native American soldiers in Arizona, where the Piestewas resided.
In 2007, Lynch testified before Congress about the inaccuracies between her experience and the way she was portrayed in battle. “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 said.