Twelve years after being the center of a dramatic story of survival and capture during the early days of the Iraq War, Jessica Lynch still grapples with the mental and physical effects every day.
"I still have the nightmares,'' she told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Thursday. "I'm still dealing with a lot of the pain that goes with the traumatic injuries. I think it's just one day at a time, and I'm still working with it."
In 2003, Lynch was a 19-year-old private first class in the Army serving as a supply clerk with the 507th Maintenance Company when her convoy was ambushed by Iraqi forces, resulting in the death of 11 soldiers. Lynch suffered a broken back and her legs and feet were crushed, but she survived. She was taken as a prisoner of war and held at Saddam Hussein Hospital before her dramatic rescue by U.S. forces nine days later made national headlines.
Lynch has since endured 22 surgeries and still goes to physical therapy two or three times a week.
"I work really hard at just trying to keep up the strength and the mobility,'' she said.
The interview with Lynch is part of a TODAY's week-long "Where Are They Now?" series that explores news stories that captivated a nation through the eyes of the people who experienced them. Lynch also wrote a first-person account for TODAY.com of her capture and recovery.
After returning home to Palestine, West Virginia, she became part of a controversy after government reports painted her as a heroine for aggressively firing her weapon against the enemy before being captured. Lynch testified before Congress in 2007 that she never fired her weapon because she was knocked unconscious when her vehicle crashed, and when she woke up she was in an Iraqi hospital. The erroneous reports continue to rear their head more than a decade later.
"That's been one of my biggest struggles is handling the whole criticism that has come with the backlash of the stories that were created — these fabricated stories,'' Lynch said. "I want to make sure that the people that deserve the credit get the credit, not me who was knocked unconscious and didn't get to fire off a shot. It's just kind of amazing that even 12 years later, the stories that were created, those fabricated stories, are still being targeted at me for how I had something to do with those stories, that I created them."
Still living in her hometown in West Virginia, Lynch is now the mother of a daughter, Dakota Ann, 8, who is named after her late friend, Lori Ann Piestawa, who died in the ambush and was the first woman from the U.S. military killed in the Iraq War. Lynch also has earned her education degree from West Virginia University at Parkersburg, fulfilling her goal of becoming a teacher that motivated her to initially join the military.
She also meets regularly with a therapist as she continues to struggle with the memories of her ordeal.
"It's getting a little bit better,'' she said. "Having somebody besides family and friends to talk to, an actual therapist that kind of knows what some of these other troops are still going through, being able to kind of just lay it all out there for her, it's been an amazing healing process for me."
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