Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch: Home to the Mountains
By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 22, 2003 "It's great to be home," Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch told hundreds of well wishers who lined the streets of Elizabeth, W. Va., today to welcome the former POW home.
A Blackhawk helicopter carried the former POW to Elizabeth, after her discharge from Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Lynch then traveled the last five miles of her journey by motorcade to a private homecoming in her hometown of Palestine.
Flags, signs and yellow ribbons awaited the young soldier in Elizabeth. The Wirt County High School marching band was there, as was West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who said the people of West Virginia were welcoming back "a young citizen and a soldier."
"She left here as one of many newly enlisted in the military pursuing both her duty and her dreams," he said. "She returns a renowned international figure and the symbol of the quiet courage and commitment of all of our armed forces. And like all members of our armed forces, she may consider the duty that she had and what she did as routine, (but) we know that she and they have performed the heroic."
Wise said the entire state of West Virginia "has worn a yellow ribbon around its heart" since Lynch was captured. "In Palestine, after your rescue," he said, "a church put up a sign. The sign reads 'God is still in the business of making miracles.' One of his miracles has come home to the mountains today."
Dressed in her Army green uniform and black beret, Lynch appeared to hold back tears as she pushed her wheelchair up to a microphone to make her first public statement since her March 23 capture by Iraqi forces.
"Hi," she said simply, "Thank you for being here. It's great to be home."
Lynch went on to thank everyone who hoped and prayed for her safe return. "For a long time I had no idea so many knew I (had) been missing, but I read thousands of letters, many of them from children who offered messages of hope and faith."
She also thanked the West Virginians who gave donations to the Lynch fund and who volunteered their time and skills to work on her family's house. She thanked the doctors, nurses and staff members of Walter Reed Army Medical Center for their excellent care and the staff of Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany for their care and support.
"I'd like to thank the Fisher Foundation, Gov. Bob Wise, and United States Senator Jay Rockefeller for the roles they played in helping my family to be with me in Germany and Washington," Lynch added. "I'm also grateful to several Iraqi citizens who helped save my life while I was in their hospital."
``Lynch also thanked the Special Forces soldiers who saved her life and praised an Army sergeant who's been her inspiration during her recovery.
She then spoke of her feelings about her combat experience.
"I'm proud to be a soldier in the Army," she said. "I'm proud to have served with the 507th. I'm happy that some of the soldiers I served with made it home alive. And it hurts that some of my company didn't."
"Most of all I miss Lori Piestewa, she was my best friend, she fought beside me and it was an honor to have served with her. Lori will always remain in my heart. (Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, of Tuba, Ariz., was killed March 23, 2003, in Iraq.)
"I've read thousands of stories that said when I was captured I said, 'I'm 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's great to be home."