Lynch Book Says Iraqi Doctors Were Saviors
By ERIN McCLAM, Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK - The authorized biography of Pfc. Jessica Lynch debunks early myths that U.S. troops waged a daring rescue to save her, and describes a team of Iraqi doctors as gentle caretakers who worked at their own risk to keep her alive.
"I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story," published Tuesday, suggests camera-toting American fighters met no resistance as they rushed a Nasiriyah hospital April 1 to retrieve the prisoner of war.
The biography, by former New York Times writer Rick Bragg, discredits stories from the war's first days that Lynch shot at her Iraqi captors, and that the Iraqi hospital was hostile territory that posed grave danger to Lynch's rescuers.
Once, according to the book, Iraqi medical workers even loaded Lynch into an ambulance and drove it to an American checkpoint in hopes of returning her — but came under fire from U.S. troops and had to turn around.
Critics have suggested the U.S. military, desperate for support for the war, exaggerated Lynch's story — or at least did not go far enough in publicly correcting rumors about how it played out.
"From the heartbreaking mess of the convoy ambush, gold was spun — first from an event that looked more dangerous on television than it perhaps had truly been, and next from a story of heroics in the fight at Nasiriyah that a Hollywood script writer would have been hard put to invent," Bragg writes.
And the suggestion by a handful of critics that Lynch may have contributed to the myth, deceiving others to enhance her heroism, enrages her family and makes Lynch herself cry, according to the book.
"Don't they know I'd give anything in this world if it never happened at all?" she says.
Eleven soldiers lost their lives when Lynch's 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed March 23 in Nasiriyah after missing a turn.
Lynch dismisses early reports that she had engaged in a firefight with the Iraqis who ambushed the convoy. Like many soldiers in her company, the M-16 rifle she carried had jammed with grime and airborne sand. She fired no shots, she said.
Lynch, then a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, was rescued nine days later by American soldiers who had been tipped off by an Iraqi lawyer that she was captive in a hospital.
The book says Lynch "lost" three hours between her last memory of the ambush and her awakening in an Iraqi hospital.
In that time, according to medical records cited in the biography, Lynch was raped and suffered broken bones, torn flesh and two spinal fractures. Iraqi doctors who treated her have told reporters she was not raped.
The book also says Lynch strongly resisted Iraqi doctors who wanted to amputate one of her legs at a general hospital in Nasiriyah. The surgery never took place.
Still, Lynch describes a caring, sympathetic staff at the hospital. When she told one doctor she was afraid of Saddam Hussein, the doctor hushed her and replied: "Don't say that name. We don't say that name in the hospital."
One older nurse took notice of when Lynch began to panic, or break under the intense pain, and rubbed soothing talcum powder into her shoulders and back and sang to her.
"It was a pretty song," Lynch says. "And I would sleep."
Lynch and Bragg are splitting the book's $1 million advance, and publisher Alfred A. Knopf ordered a first run of 500,000 copies. The cover features a smiling photo of Lynch in military garb, a U.S. flag behind her.
The book's release, timed for Veterans Day, comes amid a blitz of promotional interviews by Lynch and Bragg. ABC's Diane Sawyer interviews Lynch in a prime-time special Tuesday; NBC aired an unauthorized movie about her Sunday.
Besides detailing Lynch's capture and her agonizing recovery — she suffered extensive broken bones and is slowly learning to walk again — the book profiles Lynch's family and her hometown of Palestine, W.Va.
It portrays the rural hamlet as a God-fearing place where residents spoke of almost nothing else during Lynch's captivity, and where hope slowly faded that she would be found alive.
When the Defense Department telephoned the good news to the family, Lynch's mother, Dee, threw open her screen door and ran, crying and laughing, through her neighborhood: "They found my baby! They found my baby! They found my baby!"
And the book includes a love letter written by the man who later become Lynch's fiance, Army Sgt. Ruben Contreras. The letter never found Lynch, and was returned to Contreras unread at Fort Bliss, Texas, the book says.
"You're gonna be all right," Contreras wrote to Lynch in the letter. "If we can make it through this, we can make it through anything."
Lynch told Bragg she wished the war had never taken place because other soldiers would then be alive — including Lori Piestewa, a soldier close to Lynch who was killed in the ambush.
"We went and we did our job, and that was to go to the war, but I wish I hadn't done it — I wish it had never happened," Lynch says. "I'd give four hundred billion dollars. I'd give anything."
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