Sitting in South Carolina in between filming scenes on her latest movie, the battlefields of Iraq seem like another time and world away for Army veteran and former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch. But the scars, both mental and physical are never far from her recollection, nor is her message of perseverance.
Lynch will discuss her ordeal and the lasting changes it has had on her life when she visits Turlock on Nov. 7, for a speech at Turlock High and then later as the guest speaker at the Turlock Gospel Mission’s Veterans’ Day recognition dinner.
“One of my main messages is perseverance,” Lynch said in a phone interview. “Looking back I have realized how strong I was mentally, much stronger than I ever thought possible. Now when I set my mind to something, I know I can accomplish it. I try to impart that message to the kids that I talk to that they can overcome the obstacles put in front of them, no matter if they are major or minor.”
Lynch became a part of the American military legend and a household name during her tour of duty in Iraq in 2003. The Private First Class was serving as a unit supply specialist with the 507th Maintenance Company. During a mission the convoy made a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi fighters. The Humvee she was riding in was hit with a rocket propelled grenade and crashed. A total of 11 soldiers were killed in the ambush and six, including Lynch, were taken captive. At the time of her capture she had shattered the bones in her right arm and foot and suffered a severe break in her left leg. She also had two spinal fractures and nerve damage.
Lynch was interrogated and held in isolation at an Iraqi hospital. The only other prisoner Lynch saw was that of her best friend, Lori Piestewa, who died in the bed next to Lynch’s from a head wound sustained in the ambush.
For nine days Lynch lay in a hospital bed uncertain if she would survive her capture. On April 1, 2003, Special Operation Forces launched a rescue that culminated with a nighttime raid at the hospital and Lynch’s rescue. Lynch was the first POW to be rescued since the Vietnam War.
“The entire nine days was the darkest point,” Lynch said. “I was left alone, not given food or water. They took me down to the operating room saying they were going to take my leg off. I knew that if I gave up then I was going to die. I needed to keep faith and rely on myself to get through it.”
Lynch lives each day with the aftermath of her capture and rescue. She has undergone more than 20 surgeries and continues to live with reoccurring pain. Her story garnered headlines around the country and in some cases was greatly embellished, which has led to some naysayers to claim her entire ordeal was a piece of manufactured propaganda.
“People still think that I wasn’t captured,” Lynch said. “I don’t know what it is, but some people think it was all fake. It kind of blows my mind.”
Through the negative, Lynch has also made way for the positive. She went back to school and earned a bachelor’s degree and became a teacher. She has a 7-year-old daughter, travels the country as a motivational speaker and has recently added the role of actress to her repertoire. She had a role in the JC Films production “Virtuous,” which was a loose portrayal of her experience in Iraq. She currently is starring in the JC Films movie “One Church,” which explores the idea of a government takeover of all churches.
“I’ve done so much in the past 11 years,” Lynch said. “One of the main things was getting my education and going back to school. It was always one of my dreams to become a kindergarten teacher, so I am glad that after I healed and went through all the physical therapy that I went back.”
Lynch had no idea her captivity and rescue had been so closely watched by the country and the response took her by surprise.
“When I was in Walter Reed in D.C., I asked my mom if my friends back in my hometown knew I had been missing,” Lynch recalled. She said ‘yeah, it’s kind of a big deal.’ I had no idea. It was kind of shocking how many people had been following it. It was nice to come home and read all the letters and see all the support people had been giving me. It was overwhelming.”
Sponsorships for Lynch’s appearance at the Turlock Gospel Mission’s event are still available. For prices and more information call Tim Guerino at 409-4642 or Rhonda Boucher at 606-1873.