It was a late-night phone call to a home in Palestine, W.Va., on April 1, 2003, that touched off a celebration in Wirt County. Greg Lynch Sr. answered the phone at his home and was told his daughter, Private First Class Jessica Lynch, had been rescued.
“At first I didn’t believe it,” Lynch would recall. “I thought it was a cruel April Fool’s joke.”
The Lynch family had agonized for any shred of news in recent days. Their daughter was missing in action. She had been captured in an ambush in Nasiriyah only days earlier as the ground war in Iraq began.
Lynch, a 19-year old, was a maintenance clerk with the 507th Maintenance Battalion. Trucks in her convoy became disabled and fell behind as they motored toward the front across the desert. Trying to catch up they took a wrong turn and wound up in an enemy stronghold and under fire. Many in her unit were killed in the ambush, but the Iraqis took the petite blond from West Virginia captive. She suffered severe injuries in a wreck as the unit tried to escape the hostile territory.
Intelligence officials soon learned Lynch was being held prisoner in an Iraqi hospital not far from the ambush site and planned a daring raid, US Special Forces raided the hospital and brought her out. They also discovered the bodies of several of Lynch’s comrades buried in the hospital yard. They too were recovered.
“Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen,” said Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, briefing reporters in Qatar. “Loyal to a creed they know to never leave a fallen comrade behind and never embarrass their country.”
Commandos identified themselves to a frightened Lynch in her hospital bed as American soldiers.
“I’m an American soldier too,” she replied, a line that eventually became the title of the book about her ordeal.
Back in Wirt County, the news spread quickly, sparking a joyful outburst.
“They confirmed it and they showed her picture,” said Nancy Villers who was at the Lynch’s home when the word arrived. “Jessi’s mom was sitting there in front, grabbing the TV and just saying, ‘Her baby, her baby.’ There was probably 30 or 35 people in the house just cheering, crying, hugging, and laughing. It was really great to be there to see it.”
As word spread, the folks in Wirt Count spilled into the streets of the county seat in Elizabeth. Firetrucks formed a circle around the county courthouse and ran their sirens, and pickup trucks loaded with teenagers blasted Toby Keith’s “Angry American.”
“I just said, ‘I’ve got to go to Elizabeth.’ I don’t know where to go, even if it’s just to the church to pray,” said Lucinda Fout. “More people started coming and it’s just been growing and growing.”
“Everybody’s excited and started flicking the lights in their house,” said teenager Seth Rye. “Biggest parade in Wirt County history. It’s awesome.”
Well, it was the biggest until several months later, when thousands lined the streets of the tiny West Virginia town to welcome Jessica Lynch home.