by Timothy Chilman
Tiny, blond, 19 year-old Private Jessica Dawn Lynch was a clerk with the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company of the U.S. Army, who had joined up to escape the 15 percent unemployment of her home in West Virginia. The motto of the 507th is “Just fix it.”
Jessica’s duties likely included completing forms to requisition parts and documentation of their arrival. She and six comrades were captured and eleven died after their convoy made a wrong turning and was ambushed in Nassiriya, a city spanning the Euphrates river which had featured sporadic fighting since U.S. Soldiers first reached it. Frank Thorp, a senior military spokesman, said, “Reports are that she fired until she had no more ammunition.”
Jessica was taken to the local hospital. Shortly after midnight on April 1, eight days after her capture, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers stormed the hospital, a raid that was captured by night vision camera. The U.S. soldiers said that they came under fire, but rescued Jessica. One witness said, “It was like a Hollywood film. They cried, ‘Go, go, go’, with guns… and the sound of explosions. They made a show – an action movie like Sylvester Stallone or Jackie Chan, with jumping and shouting, breaking down doors.”
When the video of the assault was released hours later, General Vincent Brooks, a U.S. Army spokesman said, “Some brave souls put their lives on the line to make this happen, loyal to a creed that they know that they’ll never leave a fallen comrade.” A movie called Saving Jessica Lynch was later made about the episode.
U.S. military records state that Jessica was raped vaginally and anally by barbarous Iraqs who had sworn fealty to the really evil dictator, Saddam Hussein.
It was all truly heroic, and largely truly untrue.
Three days into the invasion of Iraq, the 507th was the last in a column of 600 vehicles traveling to Baghdad. The 33 soldiers of the unit, which supported the MIM-104 Patriot missiles of the 32nd Air Defense Artillery, had been active for between 60 and 70 hours, with only occasional stops and minimal communications. The soldiers were cooks, mechanics, computer technicians, and welders.
The convoy comprised two tow trucks, three Humvees, and 11 five-ton trucks. Two of the latter had “bobtailed” 40 foot-long M-870 trailers.
Shortly before dawn of Sunday, March 23, the convoy was instructed to leave the main road and turn north onto Highway 7, when it should have been told to take Highway 1. The grouping became known as the “Wrong Way Convoy.” It passed through the eastern suburbs of Nassiriya and left the city without incident. One soldier said that the company commander, Captain Troy King, told him that his GPS “plugger” had “frozen,” and contact with the NAVSTAR satellites used by GPS devices had been lost.
Every soldier had at least an M-16 assault rifle. Four soldiers carried a squad automatic weapon (SAW), which is an M-249 5.56mm light machine gun. A five-ton truck had a belt-fed .50-caliber machine gun atop, manned by Corporal Damien Luten. The soldiers, however, were maintenance personnel, and while all had undergone minimal battle training, they were not expected to engage in combat. They were supposed to enter a town only after it had been secured by combat forces, and even then, they should always have been protected.
When the navigational error was realized, the convoy performed a U turn and went back to Nassiriya. Armed men were seen standing on rooftops. What a U.S. Army report called a “torrent of fire” began, commencing with the impact of a rocket-propelled grenade against a vehicle, which killed three soldiers.
Deserving of attention is PFC Patrick Miller. His truck was stricken by gunfire. Miller exited the vehicle. He saw an Iraqi setting up a morter in the back of a truck. “I thought, ‘Holy shit.’ So I shot, and he fell down.”
He turned and found himself facing man with an RPG. He hit the ground, and then there was an explosion. “There was dirt everywhere.”
He checked to establish whether he was still in possession of his arms and legs, then saw another man trying to load the mortar. He shot the man. As he said, “And I did that probably six more times after that.”
When he saw 30 or 40 Iraqi soldiers, he realized the show was over. He disassembled his weapon so it could not be used by the Iraqis and was then was gang-tackled. The Iraqis argued over who would take him. His Kevlar armor was taken from him, and a piece of paper bearing numbers was found in his helmet: radio frequencies. He told the Iraqis they were the prices of power steering pumps. The paper was thrown in to a fire.
In the pouch of Miller’s flak vest was found a can of chewing tobacco, which he told the Iraqis was “man candy.” He put a piece in his mouth to demonstrate. Some Iraqis did the same, but were sick. He wanted to laugh, but decided it would perhaps be ill-advised.
He said he was not maltreated, but he was asked questions. One Iraqi asked why he had come to Iraq, and he replied that he was told to come. The Iraqi asked why he had not refused, and he responded that he would have gone to jail. The Iraqi did not understand.
The performance of the other U.S. soldiers was less stellar. Many suffered what a Pentagon report termed “weapons malfunctions,” which the report suggested resulted from “inadequate individual maintenance,” although support troops have more opportunity for this than the average infantryman.
Jessica’s Humvee was hit by an RPG, killing the five other occupants. There was a six inch gash across her head, her spine was fractured in two places, her right foot was crushed, and her left leg was broken above and below the knee, with splintered bone shoved through nerves, muscles, and skin. The U.S. Army had said that Jessica fought until her ammunition was exhausted, but this turned out not to be true. During an interview with ABC, Diane Sawyer asked her: “Did you go down like, somebody said, Rambo?” Lynch replied: “No. No. I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.”
Jessica blacked out, probably because she had broken her back. It was the deadliest day of the war for U.S. forces. One soldier of the 507th said, “They left us there. They were supposed to protect us and they didn’t. We were all alone with no protection. That is not supposed to happen. We are always supposed to be protected.”
She awoke in hospital. In I Am a Soldier, Too: the Jessica Lynch Story, author Rick Bragg said that U.S. Army medical records stated that Jessica was raped vaginally and anally. Jessica was “adamantly opposed” to including that detail, but yielded to pressure from Bragg. The doctors who treated her deny the allegation. This was not Bragg’s first brush with controversy. He resigned from the Gray Lady after accusations that one of his stories relied unduly upon the work of a freelance journalist.
Dr. Jamal Kadhim Shwail, the first to treat Jessica, said he initially saw her unconscious and in shock from blood loss. She was wearing a flak jacket and none of her clothes had been removed or even unbuttoned. Her boots had not been removed. Four other doctors helped to treat her. The flak jacket was removed and her clothes cut away to expose her injuries. An area around her groin was cut to allow insertion of a catheter to drain urine. Shwail did not notice signs of rape, but was not looking for them: “The thought did not cross my mind.” Jessica’s injuries were consistent with an auto crash.
Soon after, Jessica was transferred to Saddam Hospital, which is now known as Nassiriya General. Dr. Mahdi Khafazji operated upon her fractured right femur. He cleaned her body prior to surgery, and did not see indications of sexual assault. He said, “I examined her very carefully. I cleaned her body, including her genitalia. She had no sign of raping or sodomising.” He said, “If she had been raped there is no way she could have survived it. She was fighting for her life, her body was broken. What sort of an animal would even think of that?”
The Army said Jessica was stabbed, but doctors found no such wound.
Jessica received the best care the hospital was capable of providing. She was given the only specialist bed in the hospital. A female nurse, one of only two on the floor, was permanently at her bedside. Nurse Khalida Shinah said, “I was like a mother to her and she was like a daughter.” Jessica said that the doctors who helped her were called traitors by those loyal to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Dr. Khudair al-Hazbar, then deputy director of the hospital, said, “It was war, but we cared about her and we did everything we could for her. I spoke to her every day. She was frightened, but polite to us. I know she is grateful”.
A nurse would sing to Jessica. “It was a pretty song and I [could] sleep.” She said, “I learned to put trust [in the hospital staff]. I kind of had to. If I didn’t, I felt like they could easily have said, ‘Here, just take her; do what you want with her.’” She says she is thankful to the hospital workers, because they saved her life.
Dr. Harith al-Houssona said that, two days before the raid that rescued Jessica, “I told her I will try and help you escape to the American Army but I will do this very secretly because I could lose my life.” Her placed her in an ambulance and instructed the driver to go to a U.S. checkpoint. When he approached, U.S. soldiers opened fire. He beat a retreat.
The day before the raid, waiter Hassam Hamoud said he saw a U.S. advance party in the town. The team’s interpreter asked him where the hospital was, and asked if soldiers were present. Hamoud replied in the negative.
The raid to rescue Jessica was the first mission of ex-NFL star Pat Tillman, who later provided another conspiracy theory when he was killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan. In his journal, he had written: “Do not mistake me – I wish everyone in trouble to be rescued, but sending this many folks for a single low ranking soldier screams of media blitz.”
The rescue party arrived by helicopter and the raid took place at night.
Doctors were restrained and one patient handcuffed to a bed frame. Dr. al-Hazbar said, “They attacked the hospital at night. There were explosions outside which broke the windows. The patients were terrified. The Americans knew the Iraqi military had gone so why they didn’t come for her quietly, I don’t know.”
Jessica said, “I had no idea if it was the U.S. military or Iraqi insurgents dressed like us. I was wondering, ‘Is this a tactic to get me out of the hospital and take me somewhere and kill me?’ I was so, so scared deep inside.”
One soldier entered Jessica’s room, tore the U.S. flag from his uniform, handed it to her, and said, “We’re American soldiers, and we’re here to take you home.” She replied: “Yes, I’m an American soldier, too.” It was the first rescue of an American POW since the Second World War.
Jessica’s rescue has been credited to Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, a lawyer, who decided he had to inform the Americans of her location after seeing her slapped. He was granted asylum in the United States and secured employment with the Livingston Group, a lobbying firm based in Washington, D.C. run by former GOP Representative bob Livingston. He signed a six figure deal to produce the book, Because Each Life Is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Came to Risk Everything for Private Jessica Lynch. This became the basis of the made-for-television NBC movie, Saving Jessica Lynch. Jessica does not remember him, and says she was never slapped.
When the BBC made the documentary, War Spin, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman was asked to release full video of the raid rather than an edited version. He declined, and would not comment on what resistance was faced by the raiders.
For being captured without firing a shot, Private First Class Jessica D. Lynch, United States Army, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” under Executive Order 11046. The Combat “V” was not for taking a bridge or an airfield, but because somebody made a wrong turn. She also received a Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War medal, and an honorable discharge from the Army.
Jessica split the $1 million advance from publisher Albert A. Knopf for the book I Am a Soldier, Too with Bragg. On its first day of sale, not one copy had been soldby midday at a Barnes & Noble store on Chicago’s North Side. People lined up around the block for Hillary Clinton’s memoir. Jessica’s book was outsold by The South Beach Diet.
Support troops are now given more training with their weapons, including live fire combat training, and navigation. A “virtual staff ride” has been devised, a computer simulation of what happened to the 507th.
Jessica testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The chairman, Henry Waxman, accused the government of manufacturing “sensational details and stories” about the rescue of Jessica and the death of Pat Tillman.
Jessica said that the stories told about her were untrue, but if they had inspired troops or rallied the nation, perhaps some benefit had come from them. She said she was confused why untruths had been told, as there was no shortage of true heroes, such as Lori Piestewa and the soldiers who rescued her. PFC Piestewa was Jessica’s best friend, and the pair shared rooms and tents. She was the driver of the Humvee in which Jessica was travelling at the time of the attack in Nassiriya, and the first female soldier to die in Iraq. Jessica told the Committee that Patrick Miller really did fight to the end. Later, she said that her testimony was “the scariest thing” she ever did.
When she awoke in hospital, Jessica feared she would be paralyzed for life. For a while, she was unable to control her bowels. Her medical problems were long-standing. She continued to experience pain and found it difficult to stand for a prolonged period. For a while, amputation of one of her toes was considered. She had problems with her bowels, bladder, and kidneys (“We usually just say kidney, because it’s less embarrassing.) She continues to fear being alone and has nightmares where she dreams of being chased through woods. When she gets depressed, she distracts herself by baking: “Anything chocolate and sweet. I love to mess around with stuff like that.” She receives occasional hate mail, which she shreds.
Doctors were concerned that she would never be a mother, but she produced 7 pound, 10 ounce Dakota Ann in 2007 in collusion with boyfriend Wes Robinson (who had replaced Sergeant Ruben Contreras) and after a C-section. The bastard is named in part after Lori Ann Piestewa. Dakota’s first outfit was a lace-trimmed hunting camouflage onesie and the walls of her nursery were camouflage green and bold pink. Jessica said, “I am Prisoner of War Jessica Lynch. I will always be that. But being a mommy will be amazing.”
Jessica has become a speaker for the Fisher House program, which supplies free housing to families with a member receiving treatment at a Department of Veteran Affairs hospital. She sometimes speaks to groups as large as 50,000. She launched a fund-raising effort called Jessie’s Pals which donates stuffed animals to hospital patients. She also assists the Jessica Lynch Foundation, which provides help to children of veterans.
Patrick Miller received a Silver Star and continues to suffer from his injuries. Nerves were damaged in his arm when his arms were tied behind his back and an Iraqi soldier inadvertently stepped on his elbow as he lay on the floor of a truck. With Jessica Lynch oil paintings (opening bid: $200), fridge magnets, country songs, T-shirts, books, and a movie, he was asked if he was bothered by Jessica’s fame and replied: “Mmm, somewhat.”
An unnamed, senior U.S. officer was quoted by Time magazine as saying, “I think it was the Army looking for a hero.”
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