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Jessica Lynch: One Iraq war veteran's unique perspective

From Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt, CNN
updated 12:39 AM EST, Mon December 19, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "I was just another soldier over there doing my job," says Jessica Lynch
  • Lynch was among the first Americans taken prisoner in the Iraq war
  • "There was no Rambo fighting, no GI Jane," Lynch tells CNN
  • She is now a mother, and recently received a college degree

Parkersburg, West Virginia (CNN) -- Jessica Lynch has been out of the limelight for years but with American troops leaving Iraq, she finds herself thrust in the media spotlight again.

The first time it happened was not her doing. She was one of the first Americans taken prisoner by Iraqi forces after the U.S. invasion in March 2003.

"I know that I'm already in the history books and that people are going to remember me as the prisoner of war and the fabricated stories, but you know, to me I was just another soldier over there doing my job," Lynch says.

She's now a 28-year-old Iraq war veteran, mother of a 4-year-old daughter, and recent recipient of a college degree in elementary education. She still lives near her hometown of Palestine, West Virginia.

Lynch is a unique part of the war's legacy. An unexpected heroine, Lynch is a former POW who was honored with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and POW medals after being rescued by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003, from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, where she was being held.

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Lynch was taken there after her supply convoy took a wrong turn and was ambushed on March 23, 2003.

In a harrowing firefight, 11 fellow soldiers were killed and others wounded, captured, and taken to a separate location from Lynch.

Lynch suffered a concussion and crushing injuries to her left leg. She could barely move.

The young soldier was portrayed by the U.S. government as bravely participating in a firefight after her Humvee crashed.

Her best friend who was driving their vehicle was among those who lost their lives.

Back then, the 19-year-old private first class knew the story was being embellished and she had nothing to do with it.

Back Story: Reflections on the Iraq war

"There was no Rambo fighting, no GI Jane. There was none of that," she told CNN.

"I was knocked unconscious, " Lynch added. Before she blacked out, her gun jammed and she was unable to fire a shot.

After her rescue, which was filmed by the Army, Lynch's homecoming was a huge event complete with motorcade.

She co-wrote a book and went on television to tell her full story.

In a televised interview, she said she had not participated in the firefight and had nothing to do with those reports.

In 2007, Lynch testified before a Congressional committee about the misinformation that surrounded her ordeal, arguably leaked to rally support for the unpopular war.

"There's soldiers out there every day that are doing heroic things...We don't need to create them, " she says .

Regardless, she got hate mail -- and still does on occasion, even after all these years. But Lynch tries to shrug it off.

"It doesn't affect me anymore," she says.

"Part of it, too, is I've matured so much since I was 19 and now I'm 28 and ... you learn to grow physically and mentally."

The war has left her with physical and emotional scars. Lynch has flashbacks daily, she says, and wears a leg brace. She's gone through 20 surgeries, and more are likely from her battle injuries.

Up to three times a month, she travels around the country speaking to veterans' groups among others.

One of her messages? Perseverance. It's one of the same things she told her fellow graduates during a commencement address a few days ago.

"Since coming back from Iraq, there's been so many triumphs and obstacles standing in my way, so whenever I set my mind to something, I definitely just go full blast at it," she said.

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