She's Coming Home
Nine days after she was ambushed in Iraq—along with 14 other soldiers of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company—and listed as missing, Pfc. Jessica Lynch was indeed headed for home. On April 1 a U.S. Special Operations rescue team swooped in and plucked the Army supply clerk from a Nasiriya hospital that was also apparently being used as a command center by Iraqi soldiers. Lynch, who had reportedly suffered multiple injuries, was flown by helicopter to a safe location, where she was said to be in good spirits and stable condition. "She's a brave young lady," said U.S. military Central Command spokesman James Wilkinson, "and a fine soldier."
But the Army's jubilation was tempered: The fate of the other POWs still hangs in the balance. "I'm so happy that she's okay," says Natalie Hudson, 23, wife of Army Spc. Joseph Hudson, who was among the POWs paraded on the Arab TV station al-Jazeera by their Iraqi captors. "But I hope this is the first of many rescues."
For the Lynches, hope paid dividends. An aspiring teacher, Jessica enlisted to help pay for a college education after graduating from Wirt County High School in 2001. Her sister Brandi, 17, had contacted the local Army recruiting officer, Staff Sgt. James Grady, 29, who visited the family home. Brandi was too young to join up, but her sister and brother Gregory Jr., 21, with the W.Va. National Guard, jumped at the chance. "She called me three weeks before she was captured," says Grady. "She was excited yet nervous. She was very proud she was serving her country." A week and a half before she went missing, Jessica wrote her old kindergarten teacher Linda Davies and offered to be a pen pal to the children in her class. "One day I will be a teacher, standing in your spot," she wrote, adding of her experience, "I can say I have been to places half the people in Wirt County will never see."
On March 23 Dee, 40, and Gregory, 43, a truck driver, were watching TV when they heard that their daughter's company had been ambushed. Then came the knock at the door and the dreaded news. In the difficult days that followed, friends say the family never gave up hope. Dee Lynch "could just look at a picture of Jessi and cry, but she always believed she was coming home," says friend Cheryl Rexwood, 41. "She would always say, 'When Jessi comes home, she has a lot of mail to read', or 'We'll have a big party when Jessi comes home.' " On the eve of Jessi's rescue, another friend, Ginger Sims, ran into the Lynches when they were out for a walk. Dee sat crying on the curb, but Gregory, says Sims, "was optimistic. He just kept saying she was a strong country girl and she had run all over these hills and she knew where to hide and she was coming back home."
At 6 the next evening, a call from a military official proved him right. "He said she was at a hospital and able to walk on her own," reports Grady. This news doesn't surprise people who know her. "She's very, very, very strong-willed. Majorly," says Shaylon Sims, 20, a close friend. "She's one of the best girls I've known." At press time the details of Lynch's captivity were still a mystery. But it was already clear that in the days and weeks to come, she'll need all that strength. "I know she is going to get a lot of squeezing," says her grandmother Wyonema Lynch. "Yes, there's going to be a lot of squeezing."
Sandra Sobieraj, Linda Kramer, Macon Morehouse and Rose Ellen O'Connor in Washington, D.C., Deanna Wrenn in Palestine and Zelie Pollon in Santa Fe