April 1, 2013 at 9:09 AM ET
Ten years after her dramatic rescue as a prisoner of war in Iraq made headlines, Jessica Lynch continues to persevere in the face of injuries and survivor’s guilt related to her ordeal.
“About every night I have some kind of dream where there’s someone chasing me,’’ she told TODAY’s Janet Shamlian on Monday. “It’s hard. It really is mentally and physically draining. I’m very blessed and happy to be here, and I think that’s what counts the most, and if I tell myself that I’m OK, I eventually I start (thinking), ‘You know what? I can do this.’’’
Lynch, now 29, became a household name in 2003 when she became the first American POW to be rescued since the Vietnam War. The Army private and her 507th Maintenance Company were ambushed in Nasiriya only days into the Iraq War, and she was captured and held by Iraqi soldiers at a hospital there before being rescued by U.S. Special Forces troops who stormed the facility. Lynch is now a mother, teacher and motivational speaker in her hometown of Charleston, W.V., and is working on a master’s degree.
“Every day I wake up, I have that ‘never give up’ attitude,’’ she told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Monday. “As much as I have the up and down days, it doesn’t matter as long as you keep it in your mind that you can do anything, that’s what it’s all about is perseverance.’’
Lynch suffered several broken bones during her capture and has undergone countless hours of physical rehabilitation for her legs and arms. She has had 21 surgeries since her rescue and told Guthrie she still wears a brace on her left leg and experiences pain in her right foot.
“I do the best that I can, and I’m just thankful that I’m here,’’ she told Guthrie.
In the aftermath of her rescue, there were numerous extravagant media reports that painted her as a hero and had incorrect details of her capture and rescue. She worked to set the record straight, testifying before Congress that she never fired her weapon during the firefight because her M-16 rifle jammed and that she was knocked unconscious when her vehicle flipped.
“I know that there was a lot of fabricated, misconstrued stories, but I did what I had to do,’’ Lynch told Guthrie. “I came out and tried to tell the world what really happened. I set the record straight as much as I can and what people still want to believe or not believe, that’s on them, but I felt it was important to just let the truth be known. I did Congress and testified to really just let everyone know none of this happened, this is the real story.’’
Lynch has also dealt with the survivor’s guilt. During the 90-minute firefight in Nasiriya in which she was captured, 11 members of her company were killed. One of them was her best friend, Lori Piestewa, who was taken to the Iraqi hospital with Lynch after being captured and died on the bed next to her.
“It’s so hard to continue every day knowing that Lori didn’t make it home with me,’’ Lynch said. “The reason that she went over there was to be with me and our other comrades, and sadly she didn’t get to come back home, so (I’m) just having to deal with the fact that my best friend didn’t get to come back and I did. She had two beautiful kids. It’s just really hard to know they’re going to have to grow up without their mom.’’
Lynch is now a mother herself to a 6-year-old girl, Dakota, and engaged to the girl’s father.
“There I’m not Jessica Lynch, I’m not prisoner of war Jessica Lynch, I’m Dakota’s mommy,’’ she told Shamlian.
Now that it’s been a decade since the ordeal that has become part of her story, Lynch is looking to move forward with her life.
“I’m kind of happy that we’re finally to this 10-year mark so that I can finally put Iraq in the past,’’ she told Guthrie. “I know that it will always be with me. It’s nice to make that mark of ‘I’ve made it this far.’ It’s always going to be with my life, waking up every day and dealing with the injuries. I go on and I strive and I do the best that I can.’’