I Am a Soldier, Too

Nov 24, 2003

...her right arm was shattered. Her spine was fractured in two places, her right foot was crushed, and her left leg broken in two places. In addition, she was sexually assaulted.

It is difficult to imagine a better choice for author of this book. Rick Bragg brings exactly the right life experience and writing skills to the task. Calhoun County, Alabama, and Wirt County, West Virginia, are similar in a striking number of ways. These are mainly rural places. The people are churchgoing, largely blue collar, and both places have a long tradition of military enlistment. I am sure Rick Bragg understood these people and fit right into the Lynch family, happily shared their breakfast biscuits and got along swimmingly with Jessica's mother, father, and sister.

Bragg also does a fine job of describing the landscape, the culture, the folkways of Jessi Lynch's home place. There were curving blacktop roads and cows and a few surviving mills and a lot of outdoors.

The Jessica Lynch story was put into good hands. Bragg tells it succinctly but with real insight and feeling. Now, what exactly is that story? Jessica Lynch herself is a petite blonde?pretty, somewhat prissy, by all accounts and in most ways a happily average young woman. At the age of 18 she joined the Army to see the world a little bit and get the GI education benefits so she could become an elementary school teacher.

At dawn of March 23, 2003, those plans were put on hold when her supply convoy turned into the town of Nasiriyah, instead of going around it. Her captain had marked the wrong road on his map, and a checkpoint at the intersection was unmanned. A group of Marines also let the convoy drive by when they should have stopped it.

The convoy, lightly armed, was ferociously attacked. The soldiers' main weapon, the M16, which Bragg describes as "infamous over four decades for jamming," proved nearly useless. Although Jessica Lynch, seated in the middle of the backseat of a Humvee, never fired a shot, the Washington Post ran a story that read, "Pfc. Jessica Lynch fought fiercely and shot several enemy soldiers . . . firing her weapon until she ran out of ammunition, U.S. officials said." Also off the record, those officials said "she was fighting to the death" and that she was also stabbed and "sustained multiple gunshot wounds," but Jessica Lynch herself never said any of it. She was in no way responsible for the John Wayne?type myth that sprang up. The Army just needed a hero, it seems, and created one.

Bragg catalogues Lynch's injuries: her right arm was shattered. Her spine was fractured in two places, her right foot was crushed, and her left leg broken in two places. In addition, she was sexually assaulted. Bragg writes, either "her captors raped her almost lifeless broken body after she was lifted from the wreckage or . . . they assaulted her and then broke her bones into splinters until she was almost dead"?none of which she remembers, at least, not yet.

Lynch was taken, three hours after the attack, to an Iraqi hospital where she remained for nine days. Iraqi doctors and nurses worked professionally and fervently to treat her injuries, keeping her on IVs, even donating their own blood for transfusions. They saved her life. Not all Iraqis are alike, it would seem.

Jessica Lynch was rescued, as we all saw on television, in a nighttime commando raid. There was no resistance to this raid, but there very well might have been. Lynch was taken to Germany and then Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and is still recovering from her injuries.

"Hero" is surely an elusive idea, a difficult word to define and use precisely. But Lynch was doing her duty. She showed enormous courage in the Nasiriyah hospital and in her many operations and her painful, ongoing rehabilitation. She is not the exact kind of hero our government said she was, but she will do just fine.