Call relieves rescued soldier's joyful family

W.Va. community rejoices after seeing, hearing from its wounded 19-year-old

War in Iraq

April 03, 2003|By Marego Athans | Marego Athans,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

PALESTINE, W.Va. - By 6 a.m. yesterday, the scene was pleasantly off-kilter. The old horse was chewing on his breakfast bale, the roosters were testing their vocals, the chickens were enjoying their morning romp, and seven satellite television trucks were amassed on this Appalachian hollow.

Deadra Lynch, raised on this beautiful swath of tobacco and cattle farms, hills and streams, was suddenly sprinting out of her wood-frame house and disappearing into one of the TV trucks, emerging later with a beaming smile. The high-tech invasion had brought a priceless image - her daughter on a satellite feed - half a world away, flat on her back, but, yes, alive and even smiling.

"She's beautiful. ... She looks like Jessi," said the mother, who had just endured nine days of the unthinkable: her 19-year-old daughter, Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, missing in Iraq after her convoy was ambushed during the war's opening weekend.

After days of depressing developments - Army generals fighting over war plans, Iraqi civilians killed at a Baghdad market, Marines killed by a suicide bomber - now there was something to celebrate. Lynch, a small-framed woman and aspiring teacher who had joined the Army for an education and a little adventure, was rescued at an Iraqi hospital Tuesday by U.S. special operations forces acting on a tip from the CIA.

"I think our whole entire nation needs this news," said Rodney Watson, Lynch's high school softball coach, yesterday. "Those stories were starting to beat on us a little."

Giddy with good fortune, people in Wirt County wore yellow ribbons and smiles yesterday, signaling a marked difference from a week ago. Marshall University in Huntington sent a fax to the high school offering Lynch a full scholarship.

Lynch spent her first day out of enemy hands getting treatment for wounds, possibly broken bones in both legs resulting from gunshots, said her brother, Army Pfc. Gregory Lynch Jr.

Yesterday evening Jessica Lynch was transferred from Kuwait to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where she placed her first call home, delighting about 30 relatives and friends gathered there. Before the family said goodbye, the group shouted in unison "We love you, Jessi."

Lynch sounded groggy, as if on medication, and did not discuss her experience. "She's too tired right now to comment on stuff like that," said Gregory Lynch Jr. Once she is able to fly, she will be transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, relatives said.

An Iraqi pharmacist who works at Saddam Hospital, where Lynch was found, was quoted by British Sky Television as saying he treated Lynch for leg injuries but that she was otherwise healthy. "Every day I saw her crying about wanting to go home," he said.

Fighting exhaustion, few in the family had slept much since her capture. Gregory Lynch Sr. collapsed inside his house yesterday morning, only to collect himself to face a media horde in the hot sun, appearing quieter and weaker than usual.

It's easy to imagine that the family - or the whole town for that matter - wore itself out the night before, virtually exploding from the minute the first call came in the early evening, just as the family was relaxing on the porch after dinner. At first, her father thought it was a sick April Fool's joke. Then a National Guardsman came to the house to confirm it.

"My mom about literally tore the door off the hinges," said her son.

In more somber tones yesterday, family members expressed huge relief for the rescue, gratitude to the special forces and the community, and offered prayers for soldiers who have died or are still missing.

Lynch, a supply clerk, was among 15 soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company who were ambushed March 23 northwest of Basra. The Pentagon said two from the unit were killed and eight, Lynch among them, were missing.

Eleven bodies, at least some believed to be those of Americans, were found at the hospital where Lynch was rescued. The bodies had not been identified.

Privately, many people here were bracing for the worst. The Lynches, however, say they never let themselves consider that Jessica Lynch was dead. "I knew she was trained to do her job well," Gregory Jr. said. "She's a little petite thing but she's strong in mind. I'd probably be afraid to tackle her right now."

They held prayer gatherings every night, and the consensus here is that God was listening.

"All of us learned a big lesson in faith from the way they reacted," said Sgt. L.J. Peck of the Sheriff's Department, who has known her since she was a baby. "I lived in fear of what would happen and wanted to be there for the family. The family is the one that kept our spirits up."

It's in the family stock, said Delores Martin, a cousin of Lynch, who was out hanging a big spray-painted sheet yesterday that said "Thank you God."

"When it comes to the Lynch clan, we have our arguments, but you mess with one, you mess with all," she said.

The terror hasn't dampened the family's military spirit, said Gregory Lynch Jr., an electrician for helicopters. If his unit is deployed, he'll go. His youngest sister, Brandi, 18, recently enlisted in the Army.

Meanwhile, the Lynches have a party to plan. As soon as Jessica is strong enough, her father said, "we're planning one heck of a big shindig."

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