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Rescued POW recovering, unaware of fame

LANDSTUHL, Germany—Pfc. Jessica Lynch doesn't know that a full scholarship to any college in West Virginia awaits her homecoming. Or that her night rescue from an Iraqi hospital has made her a symbol of American derring-do and the cover girl on U.S. magazine racks.

She knows that eight soldiers from her unit died in the March 23 ambush that left her with gunshot wounds, broken bones and a serious spine injury. But her family isn't asking or telling her too much.

"We're just kind of letting her take her time," her father, Greg Lynch, told reporters Tuesday at Landstuhl medical center in Germany, where her family has flown to help her recover from 10 harrowing days of captivity.

While five members of the Lynch family faced reporters, the 19-year-old supply clerk from Palestine, W. Va., was sitting in her intensive-care room. Just sitting is progress, said Landstuhl's commanding officer Col. David Rubenstein, who described his most heralded patient as "doing well and in excellent spirits."

The night before she nibbled her first solid meal—the turkey, gravy, carrots and French fries she'd asked for. Until then, applesauce and fruit juice were all she could manage.

After three operations that took nearly 12 hours, she is undergoing physical and occupational therapy. The person she has probably seen more than anyone since arriving Friday is a psychologist, Army Lt. Col. Sally Harvey, said hospital spokeswoman Marie Shaw.

Her parents, brother, sister and cousin arrived Sunday on a jet donated by the HJ Heinz Co. "I had shed a few tears before, but it hit me hard when I walked in that room," said her older brother Greg Jr., 21, an Army private first class at Fort Bragg, N.C. "It hit the whole family. It was just good to see her face. That she was in good shape."

"We said, `Hi baby, how you doing?' and she said `fine,' " recalled Jessica's father, a 43-year-old trucker. "Her spirits were real high and we were really glad to see her condition because we were kind of figuring a lot worse."

Added his wife, Deadra: "She looked real good, real cheerful. It was better than I expected."

The family appeared Tuesday wearing yellow ribbons pinned to their clothing, honoring prisoners of war and the missing. Greg Lynch said his sister is "aware of the fate of the other members of the 507th (Maintenance Company) and the POWs. She is real concerned for them, but she is not in a state where she wants to talk about that. She is looking out for others and not for herself."

At Landstuhl, a "repatriation" team is looking out for the private, including a chaplain, the psychologist and military intelligence officers who have debriefed her, hospitals officials said.

Hospital officials say they are not sure how much Pvt. Lynch remembers. Shaw, the hospital spokeswoman, said it is not uncommon for soldiers who have been through trauma to bury their memories. Even during her capture, Shaw said, "We don't know if she was conscious during that whole ordeal."

It was only after surgery on compound fractures in her right arm and left leg that doctors realized she might have been hit by small-caliber gunfire, although Shaw said no bullets or metal fragments were found.

Since Jessica Lynch's arrival, letters and cards have flooded the hospital. People have sent stuffed teddy bears and rabbits. A German woman drove from Frankfurt to leave a jewelry box for the wounded soldier.

Her parents brought a teddy bear wearing a red, white and blue ribbon for Jessica, who joined the Army to pay for an education degree so she could teach kindergarten. She keeps making one request, one that could be realized the end of this week, Shaw said, when a plane may take her to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

As her father put it: "She just wants to go home."


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