Ex-POW Jessica Lynch commemorates rescue
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- John Romage collects change from more than 1,000 drivers daily on the West Virginia Turnpike, but one day last year he recognized a hero behind the wheel.
Jessica Lynch smiled back at Romage as she handed him her toll fee.
She even signed her autograph on the back of a receipt and shook the Mount Hope resident's hand, Romage said.
The Wirt County native was rescued 10 years ago Monday after being taken as a prisoner of war in Iraq in 2003.
Lynch, a private first class in the U.S. Army, and other soldiers of the 507th Maintenance Company were part of a convoy that took a wrong turn, wrecked and were ambushed near the hotly contested Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003.
Eleven soldiers were killed in the attack. U.S. forces rescued Lynch at a Nasiriyah hospital on April 1. Five other soldiers, held separately from Lynch, were released on April 13, 2003.
Lynch, 29, spoke at a 10-year anniversary reception at the Culture Center in Charleston on Monday.
"It was 10 years ago today that I was rescued from an Iraqi hospital ... and today marks just another milestone," Lynch said to the crowd.
More than 50 people attended the free event.
Lynch loaned the West Virginia Division of Culture and History a selection of her photographs and other memorabilia to put on display at the Culture Center. The items include newspaper clippings, get-well cards, an American flag afghan with a yellow border and a doll dressed in a desert camouflage uniform. The items will be on display until April 10 and then again at other times throughout the year.
Romage said he showed up to honor the woman who was "so sweet" during their brief interaction in the toll plaza line in Pax. He even brought a copy of her book, "I Am a Solider, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story," for her to sign.
"A lot of people come back with problems and don't do anything, but she's actually trying to do something with her life," Romage said. "She carries herself so well."
Lynch, who wore a black suit, pink sweater and a necklace with light pink and white gemstones, said that she likes to put on a happy face.
The elementary school substitute teacher graduated with a degree in education from West Virginia University-Parkersburg in December 2011. She is working toward a master's degree in communication studies from the same university, she said.
While her students refer to her as "Mrs. Lynch" or "Dakota's mommy" -- a reference to her 6-year-old daughter -- the West Virginian said she is reminded daily of her past.
"I definitely have days where it's up and down," Lynch said. "I do wake up in the middle of the night after dreaming that some man is chasing me through the woods."
Lynch said she was a shy person when she signed up for the military at 18. Ten years later, she has become a pro at public speaking.
"I wanted to be the person who sat back in the corner and not be noticed," Lynch said. "After 10 years, it makes it easier. The biggest change I've learned is to be more vocal and go after whatever it is I'm striving to do."
Support has been key to her success, she said.
Staff Sgt. Lisa Stanley, of the West Virginia Army National Guard, said she supports Lynch because she's proud of her and all soldiers who serve. Stanley and other state Army National Guard members gathered at the center to meet Lynch.
"It's obviously important to show support for a fellow service member who went through an ordeal we could all go through," said Stanley, 30. "We're proud of the West Virginia soldier and wanted to demonstrate our support."
Like Lynch, Harts resident Charles Baisden also was awarded a Purple Heart. The Vietnam War veteran considers Lynch a hero.
"At the time, we needed something to uplift the U.S., and she was it," Baisden said. "We got Woody Williams and Jessica Lynch, and it just feels great."
Williams, a World War II veteran, is the state's only living Medal of Honor recipient.
Reach Megan Workman at email@example.com or 304-348-5113.