POW's family planning 'one heck of a shindig'
PALESTINE, W.Va. -- A mile up narrow Mayberry Run Road from the tiny town of Palestine -- home to 100 people, a post office, two churches and a gift shop -- Greg Sr. and Dee Lynch stood in front of their two-story, wood-frame house Wednesday and faced the nation.
The war in Iraq is a world away from the peaceful hollow in which the Lynch home is nestled, surrounded by densely wooded hillsides where redbuds and dogwoods were showing their first pastel tints of spring. But since March 23, when the Lynches learned that their petite, 19-year-old Army daughter was missing in action following an ambush on the outskirts of Nasiriyah, the war has been very real for the burly, gray-bearded truck driver, his blonde, soft-spoken wife, and their friends and relatives.
Yesterday morning, 12 hours after receiving a call from Central Command headquarters informing them that Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch had been rescued from an Iraqi hospital, the Lynches appeared in front of their house and greeted more than 50 reporters, photographers and technicians. Across the road from the family's yellow ribbon-festooned mailbox, 10 satellite uplink trucks shared a small pasture with a shaggy pony.
Smiles replaced the lines of tension that creased their faces during the past 10 days, as the Lynches exchanged "good mornings" with reporters and stepped into the glare of generator-powered floodlights and reflector screens.
"It took a brave bunch of people to risk their own lives to go in and free a hostage they didn't even know," Greg Lynch said of the Navy SEALS and Army Rangers who rescued his daughter.
But Lynch and his wife said they never doubted that their supply clerk daughter was alive after she was reported missing, crediting prayer and Jessica's tough, "country girl" constitution with seeing her through until the rescue team arrived.
"What her brother put her through, growing up, probably prepared her a lot, too," Lynch said with a grin.
The Lynches said they had no idea Jessica had been rescued until about 6:45 p.m. Tuesday, when they received a phone call from an Army official.
"We had just finished eating a bite and were sitting on the porch, trying to relax a little," Lynch said. "I thought it was an April Fool's joke at first."
When he realized the call was for real, "I think everybody around here heard all our screaming and shouting," he said.
Word of the release quickly spread to the town of Elizabeth, about five miles to the north, where 994 people make up the population of Wirt County's only official town.
Fire trucks and sheriff's department cruisers -- horns and sirens blaring -- roared through the town and past its tiny courthouse, where a large evergreen tree is draped in an arrangement of yellow ribbons. As the news spread, scores of pickups and cars joined in the impromptu parade.
"Everyone's ecstatic," said Rose Ruble, manager of Hill's Exxon, one of the few Elizabeth businesses still open after dark. "People everywhere prayed for her. I guess God's still in the miracle business."
Jessica's brother, Greg Lynch Jr., enlisted in the Army the same day as his sister and was home on leave granted him because of Jessica's disappearance. The helicopter avionics technician at Fort Bragg, N.C., said his sister's experience did not lessen his commitment to the Army.
"I love what I'm doing, and I love what the Army's doing for our country. I have no idea if I'll be going over there, too, but if I do, I want to go with the guys I trained with and work with."
Jessica's younger sister, Brandi, a senior at Wirt County High School, has signed deferred enlistment papers with the Army and will begin basic training in August.
"Moms tend to worry, but I support her decision," Dee Lynch said.
Dan Little, a first cousin of Greg Lynch Sr., and a first sergeant in a West Virginia National Guard helicopter assault company, said while he was elated over Jessica's return to freedom, "I'm so sorry the rest of the missing folks in her unit were not involved in the rescue."
Little said he was also concerned about both the physical and emotional wounds Jessica may be carrying. While preliminary reports indicated that Jessica suffered two leg fractures and a broken arm, "we don't know anything yet about what kind of emotional stress she's been through," Little said. "We train for being held captive, but I don't care how much training you get, you can't truly prepare for the reality of being taken prisoner. But she's prevailed and she's my hero."
Despite intensive media pressure throughout the week, Greg and Dee Lynch answered questions politely and patiently during their long question-and-answer session yesterday.
"They've had no sleep since Sunday, and at times there have been some minor intrusions on their privacy," Little said. "But for Greg, talking to all the reporters has kind of been like therapy."
During a morning assembly at Wirt County High -- where Jessica played on the softball team, took part in Future Farmers of America, and graduated in 2001 -- Principal Ken Heiney announced the rescue.
"The students just stood up and started cheering 'USA, USA,'" Heiney said. "When I walked down the halls today, I saw a lot of people watching the news. I have to admit I watched a lot with them."
Both West Virginia University and Marshall University announced that they were offering financial assistance packages to allow Lynch to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher.
After fielding the last question at his front-porch news conference, Greg Lynch announced some immediate plans.
"Tonight, we're finally going to get some rest," he said. "And when Jessi gets home, we're going to throw one heck of a big shindig."
Rick Steelhammer is a reporter for the Charleston Gazette.