U.S. Army Private Jessica Lynch received a hero's welcome in her native West Virginia Tuesday. Private Lynch became perhaps the most famous American soldier involved in the Iraq war after she was taken prisoner and later rescued by U.S. commandos.
The small towns of Elizabeth and Palestine, West Virginia, turned out in force to welcome home Private Lynch. She is still recovering from injuries sustained when her unit was ambushed in southern Iraq on March 23.
Jessica Lynch was rescued nine days later when U.S. commandos stormed a hospital in Nasiriyah. Since then, she has been recuperating at Army hospitals in Germany and Washington.
Private Lynch suffered numerous broken bones during her ordeal and still has difficulty standing. But that did not prevent her from greeting an enthusiastic hometown crowd and making a brief statement from her wheelchair. "I read thousands of stories that said when I was captured [rescued by U.S. troops], I said, 'I am an American soldier too.' Those stories were right. Those were my words. I am an American soldier too. Thank you for this welcome and it is great to be home," she said.
The capture and rescue of Private Lynch and five other members of her unit received extensive U.S. media coverage. Some initial accounts of her capture portrayed her as a hero and indicated that she put up stiff resistance and was wounded before being taken prisoner. Military officials have backed off those accounts now and say her gun may have jammed during the firefight with Iraqi soldiers and that most of her injuries came when her vehicle crashed.
Lt. Colonel Greg Argyros is one of the Army doctors who took care of Jessica Lynch during her three-month stay in the hospital. He said Private Lynch remembers little about her capture. "She remembers trying to escape in the ambush with her vehicle, speeding away from the Iraqi forces. The next thing that she can recall is the time that she woke up in the Iraqi hospital," he said.
On Tuesday, it was clear that West Virginians were just happy to have her back home. She was given a parade in her honor with hundreds of people lining the parade route and many wearing t-shirts that said, "Welcome home Jessica."
"We welcome back a young citizen and a soldier," said West Virginia Governor Bob Wise. "She left here as one of many newly enlisted in the military, pursuing both her duty and her dreams. She returns a renowned international figure and the symbol of the quiet courage and commitment of all of our armed forces."
Before she was released from the hospital in Washington, Jessica Lynch was awarded three military medals, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War medal.