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A POW's Hometown Breathes Easier

Friends and family gather in front of Jessica's Palestine, W. Va. home, April 1, 2003, after her parents Deadra and Greg Sr. received the good news of her rescue by special forces in Iraq.
AP
It's a case of answered prayers in Wirt County, West Virginia, population 5,893, which Tuesday night got the news they'd been hoping for, after over a week of waiting for news of the young woman who calls Palestine, W. Va., home and was missing in action in Iraq.

The U.S. military called with the news that special forces in An Nasiriyah, Iraq, had found and rescued Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk in the 507th Maintenance Company who was listed as missing along with 15 other members of her unit.

"Coalition forces have conducted a successful rescue mission of a U.S. army prisoner of war held captive in Iraq. The soldier has been returned to a coalition-controlled area," said Brig. General Vincent Brooks, at a briefing in Qatar.

Details of the raid that secured Lynch's freedom have not been made public, and the Pentagon has not said whether anything new has been learned about the other 15 soldiers listed as missing, or the 5 POWs seen on Iraqi TV shortly after the unit was captured in a March 23rd ambush at An Nasiriyah.

Potentially grim news came Wednesday as U.S. military officials in Qatar revealed that 11 bodies were found during the same raid that rescued Lynch, and there are suspicions - to be checked out by a medical examiner - that some of the bodies might be American.

That was not mentioned however Tuesday as U.S. military officials broke the news that Lynch, who was found in an Iraqi hospital in An Nasiriyah, is safe. That news sent residents of Palestine, West Virginia, pouring into the streets for an impromptu parade of thanksgiving and celebration.

More than 70 people gathered at Lynch's parents' two-story wood frame home in Palestine after the Pentagon announced Tuesday night that the 19-year-old supply clerk had been rescued, more than a week after she and other members of her maintenance unit were captured in Iraq.

CBS News has learned that Lynch is now in a hospital in Kuwait, where she is undergoing surgery for unspecified injuries. She is to be transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany as soon as she is well enough to travel.

"She's safe in a hospital, She's in good health," her father Greg Lynch Sr. told WCHS-TV. "She's in good health."

The military contacted the family about 6 p.m. "I couldn't talk. We're just glad it happened," he said.

CBS News Radio's Peter King quotes Fort Bliss military spokeswoman Jean Offutt as saying the family was later able to speak with Lynch on the phone.

"You would not believe the joys, cries, bawling, hugging, screaming, carrying on," said Pam Nicolais, another cousin of Lynch's. "You just have to be here."

A friend of Lynch's, Jessica Lowe, said that when she heard the news, "I was shaking I was so happy. I started to cry. They were tears of joy."

"It just shows that miracles can happen," said Gov. Bob Wise, who promised "one of the greatest homecomings this state has ever seen."

Lynch was injured in the March 23 ambush of her maintenance unit, but the military won't say how badly.

There has been sporadic and fierce fighting in An Nasiriyah, strategically located on the Euphrates River, ever since U.S. troops first reached the area. U.S. troops and military officials have said much of the fighting there has involved members of the Fedayeen Saddam and other Iraqi paramilitaries who have dressed as civilians and ambushed Americans.

POWs from the 507th Maintenance Unit - not including Lynch, who was listed as missing - were seen on Iraqi television shortly after their capture.

The names of those five POWS are: Edgar Hernandez, Mission, Texas; Shoshawna Johnson, El Paso, Texas; Joseph Hudson, Alamogordo, N.M.; Patrick Miller, Park City, Kansas; and James Riley, New Jersey.

In a 48 Hours interview last week as Lynch's fate remained an open question, Lynch's friends and family told CBS News Correspondent Jane Clayson on that she joined the Army to save money and put herself through college. Her ultimate goal was to teach.

She was also following in the footsteps of her older brother Gregory, a National Guard member based in Fort Bragg, N.C. Jessica enlisted through the Army's delayed-entry program before graduating from Wirt County High School in Elizabeth.

Lynch is known for her smile and her laugh. Friends and family in Palestine, about 70 miles north of Charleston, call her Jesse.

"She's everyone's baby," said Don Nelson, a family friend who spoke of Lynch's love for her country and willingness to serve. "That is what my country wants, kids like her. She is a true hero in my eyes."