Byline: Jessica Lynch
The teenage soldier who famously became a prisoner of war in Iraq has a new title: college graduate.
When I joined the Army in the summer of 2001, my plan was to get an education. And what an education I got: right at the start of the conflict in Iraq, I became a prisoner of war. I remember my convoy being attacked, grenades flying, my rifle jamming--and then darkness. I remember waking up behind enemy lines in an Iraqi hospital, unable to move my arms or legs. I was 19.
When I came home to America after nine days in captivity and a dramatic rescue by U.S. forces, I faced a new battle: an array of surgeries to fix my spine, arms, legs, and feet. Though I didn't know it at the time, the military and the media labeled me a hero. They said I'd gone down guns blazing, like Rambo, when really my rifle had jammed and I hadn't shot a soul. I clarified this as soon as I could--and then people were angry that I'd been called a hero in the first place.
Thousands of letters poured in, some supportive, many furious. "You didn't do anything over there," people wrote. "You are no hero." I had never claimed to be one.
All this was quite an education. And here's what I learned: I'm lucky. I came home alive. I reunited with my family. I got to go on to college and study to become a teacher. And recently I received my diploma from West Virginia University.
I don't really like to talk about what it took to get here. I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me, or to think I don't know how fortunate I am. Everyone else in my vehicle in Iraq was killed. My best friend, Lori Piestewa, died as a prisoner of war. I'm still here.
I'm also incredibly proud of this moment. I always dreamed of becoming a teacher, ever since my own kindergarten teacher took me under her wing when I was frightened on the first day of school. …