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Family of Rescued POW Rejoices

Family of Rescued POW Rejoices

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PALESTINE, W.Va. (AP) -- More than a week of worry over Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch quickly turned into a gleeful celebration with blaring sirens and fireworks as her family and friends rejoiced over her rescue in Iraq.

Lynch's family was told at about 6 p.m. Tuesday that the 19-year-old supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company had been rescued from an Iraqi hospital by American troops.

"I thought at first it was an April Fools joke," said her father, Greg Lynch Sr. "I thought this was a cruel joke. I can put up with most things, but not that. They assured me, no, it's not a joke."

About 20 friends gathered for breakfast at Greg and Deadra Lynch's two-story, wood-framed house Wednesday morning to wait for word on Lynch's condition.

"They told us we would be receiving a call and we haven't got that yet," Lynch said. "We want to hear from her and know what condition she's in. Not knowing is the hardest part."

Acting on a tip, U.S. special operations forces slipped behind enemy lines and seized Lynch from the Saddam Hospital, military officials said. They had to fight their way into and out of the building, but there were no coalition casualties, said Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, a U.S. Central Command spokesman.

"We're just real proud they risked their lives to go in and save our daughter," Lynch's father said. "We hope all the rest of the troops come home safely."

As the news spread across Wirt County, one of West Virginia's smallest, more than 70 friends and relatives gathered Tuesday night at the family's house in the farming community of Palestine, some 70 miles north of Charleston.

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

Lynch's mother told WCHS-TV: "I'm so excited. I'm speechless. Prayer I knew couldn't go wrong."

The soldier's older brother, Gregory, is a member of the National Guard based in Fort Bragg, N.C. "They did a wonderful job up there. I knew they were going to bring her home safe. I didn't realize that it was going to be this soon," he said.

Several miles from Palestine, in the Wirt County seat of Elizabeth, residents threw their own celebration. An impromptu parade of cars and fire trucks wound through the town as people milled along the sidewalks and set off firecrackers.

"We're just a small community and we really rally around each other," said cousin Terri Edwards.

Eleven bodies -- at least some of them believed to be Americans -- were found at the hospital where Lynch was rescued, a military spokesman said Wednesday. The bodies had not been identified.

"It's terrible, tragic," Greg Lynch said of the bodies. "We don't want to ever see a tragic deal like this. It's something we're going to have to face. It's going to happen."

Last week, Greg Lynch said he expected that his daughter would be found and would return home to pursue her dream of becoming a kindergarten teacher. Lynch joined the Army out of high school to earn money for college.

Lynch was among the soldiers of the 507th Maintenance who were ambushed March 23 near Nasiriyah, a major crossing point on the Euphrates River northwest of Basra. Five members of the 507th were shown on Iraqi television as prisoners being questioned, but Lynch was not one of them.

"Everybody was really worried, normal concerns and everything like that. But we all remained hopeful and knew she would be home," said another of Lynch's cousins, Sherri McFee.

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

"God watched over Jessica and her family. All West Virginians are rejoicing," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.

Relatives of several other missing and captured members of the 507th said Tuesday night they had received no news, but some said Lynch's rescue renewed their optimism.

"It gives me hope," said Jack Dowdy, father of missing Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland. "I'm just sitting here hoping if they find one maybe they will find some more."

"I'm hoping they found some other news too, and that maybe she knows something," said Janie Kiehl, mother of missing Spc. James Kiehl, 22.

Lynch is known for her smile and her laugh. Friends and family call her Jessi. She's "every mother's dream of a teenager daughter," said Lorene Cumbridge, another cousin.

"She's just a West Virginia country girl. Warmhearted. Outgoing," said Cumbridge, 62.

Before the war started, Lynch wrote to family friends Glenda and Don Nelson. The letter, dated March 18, arrived on Monday.

"She said she was ready to go to war and was just waiting on President Bush's word, but I could tell she was scared," said Don Nelson. "We bawled like babies when we read it. It tore us up."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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