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Rescued POW disturbed by exaggerated reports of ordeal

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

NEW YORK -- Pfc. Jessica Lynch said Tuesday she is disturbed that the military seemed to overdramatize her rescue by U.S. troops and spread false stories that she went down shooting in an Iraqi ambush.

"That wasn't me. I wasn't about to take credit for something I didn't do," she told The Associated Press. "I'm not that person."

The 20-year-old former Army supply clerk -- twig-thin and weary, one crutch close at hand -- described her ordeal in a Veterans Day interview seven months after the rescue made her a national hero.

Reports circulated by the U.S. military early in the war said Lynch waged a fierce gunbattle with Iraqi fighters who ambushed her 507th Maintenance Company on March 23 at Nasiriyah. She has since said her rifle jammed, and she did not get off a shot.

And video shot by the Americans who rescued her nine days later at an Iraqi hospital suggested they encountered resistance in a daring raid. Lynch's new book says hospital staff did not resist, and even offered U.S. troops a key.

"It disturbed me," Lynch said. "I knew that it wasn't the truth."

Still, the ex-prisoner of war from rural West Virginia took pains to say that she does not care why the military may have exaggerated her story, and that she considers the soldiers who rescued her April 1 to be heroes.

"No matter what it was, the point is that they got in there, they rescued me, and they took me home safe," she said.

Hope dwindled

Lynch, who has fair skin and fine blond hair that falls to her shoulders, physically recoils when she recounts her time in the hospital, a time when her hope dwindled each day that she would see home again -- or even survive.

But she said that as she lay in a bed at Saddam Hussein General Hospital, her body wracked, she decided: "I wasn't going to let myself die there."

Lynch spoke with the AP as her biography, "I Am a Soldier, Too," hit bookstores nationwide. It was written by Rick Bragg, who resigned from The New York Times after a free-lancer helped him with a story without receiving credit. Bragg was present during the AP interview with Lynch.

Lynch walks with the help of a single crutch or is shuttled around in a wheelchair. She undergoes two hours of physical therapy a day. "It's getting better every day," she said. "It's a long process, but it's going OK."

Lynch said she tries to avoid news coverage of the fighting in Iraq because her memories are too painful. She said the almost-daily reports of U.S. troop deaths deeply sadden her.

"It's horrible," she said. "It seems like it's getting worse every day. It's just something that, you know, doesn't seem to get any better." She said all the slain Americans are heroes to her.

She would not discuss claims Tuesday by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt that he bought nude photos of Lynch last month and intended to run them, but changed his mind because she is a "good kid."

Flynt said he got the photos from male soldiers who posed with Lynch.

Lynch attorney Stephen Goodwin said: "It's incredulous that anyone would think it appropriate in any way to attempt to publish unauthorized photos of Jessica -- photos taken before she was deployed to Iraq and before her capture and rescue."

Lynch and Bragg are splitting a $1 million advance from publisher Alfred A. Knopf, which ordered a first run of 500,000 copies. Publicity surrounding the release has included an unauthorized NBC movie and a prime-time ABC interview.

Bragg said he sometimes felt guilty during long interviews with Lynch at her home in Palestine, W.Va., and by telephone.

"Sometimes, I'd stop asking questions because it was painful to hear," he said. "There are parts of the book that I won't read again because I look at the chapter and I think about Jessi having to talk about it, and it's very hard."

Lynch plans to marry Army Sgt. Ruben Contreras in June. Lynch, who is on disability, said she is still deciding her future.

"I want to get walking first," she said. "But I want a family. I want kids. I guess that's kind of everyone's dream."


On the Net

  • Publisher: www.aaknopf.com


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