CHESTER - Ten years ago, West Virginia native Jessica Lynch was recovering in a Washington, D.C., hospital from serious injuries suffered in an attack by hostile Iraqi forces.
Her capture and rescue in the early days of the 2003 invasion of Iraq had already become the stuff of legend - a legend that she later said was mostly media- and government-created.
Now, 10 years later, Lynch, 30, is a motivational speaker and a substitute teacher for elementary schools in Wirt and Wood counties. She has a 6-year-old daughter, Dakota, and is working on a master's degree in communications.
On June 1, Lynch will speak at the annual "Meet the Heroes" event at The Orchards at Foxcrest in Chester. She will appear with the USO Liberty Bells, a vocal and dance ensemble.
The event starts at 11 a.m., is free of charge and open to the public.
"This being the 10th anniversary of the rescue of Jessica Lynch, The Orchards at Foxcrest want to honor her and our local veterans at the 'Meet Our Heroes' event," the nursing home said in a prepared statement. "We wanted to give the community an opportunity to meet an all-American hero and honor our veterans."
Lynch, a native of Palestine, W.Va., recently told NBC's "Today" show that she hopes that, with the 10th anniversary of her capture, she is able to put the whole thing behind her.
"I'm kind of happy that we are finally to this 10-year mark so that I can finally put Iraq in the past," she said in the April 1 broadcast, the 10th anniversary of her rescue by U.S. special forces from a hospital in Nasiriya, Iraq. "I know that it will always be with me. It's nice to make that mark that I've made it this far."
Lynch joined the U.S. Army in 2001 and did her basic training after 9/11 in Fort Jackson, S.C. Deployed to Iraq as part of the 507th Maintenance Company, Lynch was injured and captured by Iraqi forces on March 23, 2003, after her convoy was ambushed and the Humvee she was riding in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Nine days later, on April 1, the private first class was rescued from the hospital by U.S. special forces - purportedly the first successful rescue of an American POW since Vietnam and the first ever of a woman. Eleven other members of her unit had died in the ambush.
Lynch became an international cause celebre in the days and weeks after her rescue. But, in her 2004 book, "I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story," and in her 2007 testimony before Congress, Lynch said the story told in the news media was only partly true.
Lynch said she never engaged Iraqi forces just prior to her capture - her M16 rifle had jammed and she never fired a shot - and her rescue from the hospital was hyped for propaganda purposes.
In December, Lynch told Fox News host Mike Huckabee that she was knocked unconscious for three hours after the attack and awoke in an Iraqi hospital with serious injuries - a broken back at the fourth and fifth lumbar vertebrae, a crushed right foot, a broken left tibia, head lacerations and a broken right humerus.
Her left femur was surgically removed by Iraqi doctors and replaced with a "1940s rod which was fit for a man," she told Huckabee. "Unfortunately, during the ambush, I was knocked unconscious, and that was it. To me, that wasn't a hero. I was simply just a survivor at that point. ... I wasn't a Rambo warrior fighting on the streets of Iraq."
Since then, Lynch has undergone more than 21 surgeries. She wears a leg brace and has a hard time walking on her right foot. What's more, she has no feeling in her left leg because of the nerve damage in her back.
"I go on and I strive and I do the best I can," she told the "Today" show. "You smile and you put on that brave face - kind of hides and protects what I don't want people to really understand."
There also has been psychological trauma. "About every night, I have some kind of dream where there's someone chasing me. It's hard. It really is mentally and physically draining," she told "Today."
Still, through it all, Lynch was able to go back to school and earn a bachelor's degree in education from West Virginia University in Parkersburg. She did her student teaching at the same Wirt County elementary school she attended as a child. Currently, she divides her time between parenting and substitute teaching, while also taking speaking engagements when she can.
"I'm very blessed to be here," she told "Today."
Lynch founded Jessi's Pals as a way to funnel donated blankets and stuffed animals to WVU Children's Hospital. Artifacts from her time in Iraq and Germany currently are on display at the state Culture Center in Charleston.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)