Former POW Jessica Lynch Shares Story of Perseverance Ahead of Veteran’s Day

November 4, 2023
Jessica Lynch, who shot to fame as a POW during the Iraq war in 2003

VALPARAISO — At just 19 years old, Jessica Lynch was nervous before her deployment to Iraq war but said she felt ready. Nothing could have readied her for what happened once she got there.

Lynch was captured by Iraqi forces just three days after she was deployed in March 2003. Lynch, 40, was the first prisoner of war successfully rescued since World War II and the first-ever female prisoner of war.

Lynch detailed her capture, and its aftermath, to students and faculty at Ivy Tech Community College Wednesday. She also shared her story of perseverance to approximately 580 attendees at the seventh Annual Veterans Dinner, hosted by the Valparaiso Kiwanis and Rotary clubs at the Porter County Expo Center that evening.

Since she was discharged from the military two decades ago, Lynch made it her mission to help veterans, particularly fellow former prisoners of war.

The Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal recipient said she often gives motivational speeches about how she got through her experience, but she also helps veterans adjust to normal life when they return from overseas.

“I want to work with former POWs, make sure that they get what they need, but then also veterans in general, because the VA is not always easy to navigate,” she said.

Everyone in her Humvee, except Lynch, was killed in an Iraqi ambush on March 23, 2003.

Lynch was unconscious for most of the ambush and still doesn’t have a full picture of the details. She said her best friend, Lori Piestewa, was driving the Humvee that was attacked and died from head trauma caused by the accident.

Lynch knows she was captured and several of her bones were broken. She said Iraqis replaced one of the bones in her leg with a non-sanitized metal rod from the 1940s and she is still dealing with the effects of those injuries today.

Lynch awoke hours later in an Iraqi hospital with three unfamiliar men standing over her bed. She said the first thing she tried to do was jerk herself away from them, but she was unable to move.

“I assumed that I was paralyzed because my back was broken up the fourth and fifth lumbar, so any kind of motion that I was doing to move to get away from them, just hurt,” Lynch said. “It was so, so painful. So I laid there in the care of our enemies and in hopes that I would not die.”

She remained in her enemies’ care for nine days until U.S. forces rescued her on April 1, 2003. The military told media outlets that Lynch went down like Rambo when she was captured, but she maintained that wasn’t what happened.

Lynch said she still isn’t sure why the military misreported her capture story. “When we tried to ask for answers, basically, we got we got nothing,” she said. “So we were just kind of taking it as they were trying to hype up the war, to make it look as a positive thing instead of here’s what really happened.”

She later testified before Congress about the military’s spread of misinformation surrounding her capture, and the death of Pat Tillman, whom she served with.

The military reported the former NFL player was killed by enemy fire in 2004, when in reality he was shot by friendly fire.

“You cannot give us false narratives of heroes, let’s be honest, because they are heroes, like Pat was a hero, whether he went down by enemy or friendly fire, it didn’t matter,” she said. “He was still a hero for being out there and being able to serve his country.”

The now substitute teacher said one of the biggest things that’s helped her has been building a support system of friends, family and fellow-veterans. She said one of the best things about the Army is the built-in bonding experience.

“It’s been 20 years of great friendships,” she said. “I mean, there’s been times where we have cried to each other, but also a lot of laughter.”

Lynch said she’s not sure if what she went through was worth the outcome of the war. Though American troops successfully toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein, they never uncovered a supposed secret stash of weapons of mass destruction.

“I wished things didn’t happen in the way that they did and that the outcome was a little bit different, especially for the families of our fallen,” she said. “Was it worth it? I don’t know. Because obviously, not much has changed.”


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