THE INTER-MOUNTAIN - Jessica Lynch, a West Virginia native and former prisoner of war in Iraq, told young women taking part in the American Legion Auxiliary West Virginia Girls State Friday to pursue their dreams.
“After more than 15 years of recovery, I can stand proudly in front of you and tell you to reach for those stars,” Lynch said. “Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams, just be passionate about (them) no matter where they take you.”
During her presentation on the campus of Davis & Elkins College Friday, Lynch spoke about her experience in Iraq.
“I spent one month in Kuwait and three days in Iraq. From the third day when we crossed over into the border, my unit was, sadly, ambushed — 11 of my comrades were killed and six of us were taken as prisoners of war,” she said. “For nine days I laid there on a bed, not being able to move, and I had to fight to mentally stay alive, to physically stay alive. I remember them taking me to the operating room one day and I have no idea why — I knew that I couldn’t feel anything from my waist down, so I was hoping things were still attached but I didn’t know.
“In the operating room, they forced me to put an oxygen mask over my face and I remember laying there and crying and begging and pleading with these Iraqis to please stop,” she continued. “After what seemed to be an eternity to me, they took me off of the operating room table and placed me on the gurney to take me back upstairs.”
Lynch said several days later, she was loaded into an ambulance by Iraqis who alleged they would be taking her to an American checkpoint; however, she said she did not have high hopes that this would happen.
“Days later I was put inside of an ambulance and these Iraqis — they were almost like my protectors, as weird as that sounds — they stood guard over me the entire time of my captivity,” she said. “So, they took me inside of an ambulance and kept telling me they were taking me to an American checkpoint. As much as I wanted to be excited about that, I knew the possibilities were not high. Instead of reaching the checkpoint where I would be turned back over to American soldiers, I was taken to an abandoned building and was left inside.”
Lynch said she was left in the building for several days with no human interaction, food or water.
“Eventually I was taken back to the main hospital where I was staying and on April 1, 2003, I heard the most wonderful, yet terrifying call of ‘Where is Private Lynch?'” she said. “A short time later, in the small, locked room that I was being kept in, stood men in U.S. military gear, men who looked at me and said ‘We’re American soldiers and we’re here to take you home.'”
After many years of recovery, Lynch said she was able to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, noting she was proud of her accomplishment — hoping to inspire young women in the audience to work to reach their goals.
“Not only do I get to be a teacher but I also get to stand on a stage and speak and hopefully inspire,” she said. “In West Virginia we know the power of family and the importance of the community and you all understand that too – we are here and we’re in it together, always. So, go forth, be brave, make West Virginia proud and continue honoring us with your love and passion.”
To give thanks to Lynch for her service and taking part in Girls State, she was presented with a card that was signed by all of the girls, a bracelet that reads “We Support Our Troops” and a plaque recognizing her service.
Girls State citizens also heard Friday from Butch Phillips about the Honor Flight. This program is dedicated to honoring veterans for their service by guiding them around Washington, D.C., to visit war monuments and other memorials.
As part of Phillips’s presentation, a video was played that featured photos from a previous Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C. During this portion of the presentation, the young women in the audience stood arm-in-arm singing “God Bless the U.S.A.”
On behalf of the young women taking part in the 2018 Girls State, a $1,000 check was presented to Phillips to assist in funding future flights for veterans.