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POW's hometown rejoices over her rescue

ELIZABETH, W.Va.—Jessica Lynch, 19, is a soldier. But her long-held dream is to teach. Just last month she wrote her kindergarten teacher and said: "One day I will be a teacher standing in your spot."

Lynch, rescued from her captors in Iraq in a dramatic mission, now will get that chance.

When the official call came Tuesday night that Pfc. Lynch had been saved, her mentor and former teacher raised her voice in praise and joy.

"She's gonna be a teacher, she's gonna be a teacher," Linda Davies cried.

Davies, like other friends and family members, had gathered at the Lynch house in nearby Palestine after learning of Lynch's rescue Tuesday.

Wednesday, Lynch was flown to Ramstein Air Base in Germany en route to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the largest military hospital outside the United States.

Wrapped in blue blankets, Lynch was carried off the plane on a stretcher. U.S. officials in Kuwait said she is believed to have broken legs, a broken arm and at least one gunshot wound.

On March 23, Lynch and other members of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company were ambushed in the Iraqi desert. Five of the soldiers were taken prisoner, two were confirmed dead and eight, including Lynch, were listed as missing in action.

News that she was safe thrilled Wirt County, population 5,000. Signs of that were everywhere Wednesday.

"Praise God for Jessica's life," read one in front of the Mineral Wells Baptist Church. At the Southern Baptist Fellowship in Elizabeth, another sign said, "God's still in the miracle business."

Tuesday night, as the news spread, people walked and drove into the small town of Elizabeth. Soon, motorists were honking their horns. Fire and police vehicles cruised the streets and blasted their sirens. Church bells rang and rang.

"She is one lucky girl," said Gary Roberts, 48, of Elizabeth.

G.W. Cox, a 20-year-old family friend, said it is hard to describe the scene.

"Nothing else in the world could be like it was in town last night," Cox said. "I cried like a little girl."

At one point during the celebration, someone blasted Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" on speaker. "This community believed that she was going to return," said Wirt High School Principal Ken Heiney. And the news, he added, was "what this country needed to hear."

Outside the Lynch home, about two miles into a hollow and off a one-lane road, dozens of reporters and television crews from around the world camped out.

In interviews Wednesday, Jessica's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., said that when he first received the call about her rescue, he thought it was an April Fools' joke. But soon, he understood.

"You have to keep hope and prayer going," he said.

About noon Wednesday, Heiney, the principal, told a group of students that Lynch's road to becoming a teacher had been made a little smoother still.

He announced that Marshall University in Huntington had contacted the school district and offered Lynch a full undergraduate and graduate scholarship.

"She will be a wonderful teacher," Davies said.

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(Knight Ridder Newspaper correspondents Carl Chancellor in Akron, Ohio, and Richard Glickstein in Germany contributed to this report.)

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):

USIRAQ-POW.

Iraq

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