Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ex-POW Lynch a Surprise for Fans; Former Soldier Made Famous by Her Capture, Rescue in Iraq Is a Special Guest of Event

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ex-POW Lynch a Surprise for Fans; Former Soldier Made Famous by Her Capture, Rescue in Iraq Is a Special Guest of Event

Article excerpt

Byline: CYNTHIA L. GARZA, The Times-Union

Many parade-watchers were momentarily silenced and left pensive when a yellow sports car carrying former soldier Jessica Lynch -- dressed in a West Virginia University jersey and visor -- zipped by them during Wednesday's Winn-Dixie Hometown Gator Bowl Parade.

Paul Nocida and Dabney Phillips, both West Virginia University alumni, conferred after the car had already passed them.

"That's really weird," said a perplexed Nocida, who was not expecting to see Lynch. "I saw special guest [on the car] and then I saw who it was."

Then he said, "Whoa, that's so cool."

That's the way it was for most people who were not expecting to the 20-year-old soldier from Palestine, W.Va., made famous after she was rescued by U.S. forces on April 1 from an Iraqi hospital. Parade officials kept mum on whether Lynch would actually be in the parade until the last moment. Her publicist, Steve Goodwin, said only that Lynch was here to support the Gator Bowl.

Lynch was a discreet part of the 3 p.m. parade that looped around downtown Jacksonville in about 1 1/2 hours. The pomp was a prelude for the University of Maryland and West Virginia University football game. Those teams will face off in the 59th annual Toyota Gator Bowl at 12:30 p.m. today in Alltel Stadium.

Football fans filled The Jacksonville Landing and downtown streets to watch the parade that included everything from horse-drawn carriages to fast cars and patriotic floats to six giant, helium-filled balloons.

And then there were the marching bands that came from all across the country, including Illinois and Pennsylvania.

Minerva Bryant, 52, said she her favorite part of the parade was watching the bands march by. She said she was surprised the distances some had traveled to be in Jacksonville. A steady cadence could be heard throughout the streets as high school bands, and the two college bands, kept the crowds thumping. …

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