Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch has returned to her hometown of Palestine, W.Va. Kwame Holman looks at Lynch's journey from the battlefield in Iraq to today's homecoming.
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Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch completed a long, arduous journey today, from a battlefield in Iraq to her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia. Still recovering from serious injuries, Lynch was ferried at midday in a black hawk helicopter from Washington, D.C.'s Walter Reed Army Medical Center to a secured park near Palestine. Shortly thereafter, lynch, in a wheelchair, was brought before a huge international media contingent.
PFC JESSICA LYNCH, Former POW:
Hi, thank you for being here. It's great to be home. I would like to say thank you to everyone who hoped and prayed for my safe return. For a long time I had no idea so many people knew I had been missing. But I read thousands of letters, many of them from children, who offer messages of hope and faith. I would like to thank the people in this community especially those who gave donations to the Lynch fund and who volunteered their time and skills to work on my family's house.
Please allow me to thank the doctors, nurses, and staff members of Walter Reed Army Medical Center for the excellent care they gave me. I'd like to thank the staff of the medical center in Germany for their care and support. I'd like to thank the Fisher Foundation, Governor Bob Wise, and United States Senator Jay Rockefeller for the roles they played to help my family be with me in Germany and Washington. I'm also grateful to several Iraqi citizens who helped save my life while I was in their hospital, and then the unit of our Special Forces soldiers who did save my life. I want to thank Sergeant Ruben Concheras. Ruben, you never let me give up. When I wanted to quit PT, you kept me going. You're my inspiration. And I love you.
I'm proud to be a soldier in the army. I'm proud to have served with the 507th. I'm happy that some of the soldiers I served with made it home alive, and it hurts that some of my company didn't. Most of all I miss Lori Piestwa. She was my best friend. She fought beside me, and it was an honor to have served with her. Lori will always remain in my heart. I've read thousands of stories that said when I was captured, I said, "I'm an American soldier, too." Those stories were right. Those were my words. I am an American soldier, too. So thank you for this welcome, and it's great to be home.
Hundreds of people from tiny Wirt County, West Virginia, and beyond lined the streets of the town of Elizabeth from early in the day, creating a vision of small-town patriotism, complete with marching bands, flags, yellow ribbons, and relief at the return of a native daughter. The four months leading to this day were filled with difficulty for Lynch.
She was captured March 23 after her unit was ambushed; eleven of her comrades were killed, five others captured. She had sustained major injuries in a vehicle crash, and was taken to an Iraqi hospital, from which American commandos rescued her April 1. Yesterday, the army awarded the 20-year-old Lynch the bronze star for valor, the purple heart for injuries sustained in combat, and the POW Medal. Today, a West Virginia county with a long history of military service celebrated its biggest homecoming yet.