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Saturday, July 19

Americans eager to hear Lynch speak

By Jean Tarbett | Huntington Herald-Dispatch

They don't know the sound of her voice. They don't know what exactly she did on March 23, when her convoy was ambushed. They don't know what she's going through to recover from multiple injuries or whether she's flattered or irritated with her instant fame.

What they do know is that she went to Iraq and came back on a stretcher, and that she looks like someone they know, whether a daughter, sister, classmate or friend.

Former POW Jessica Lynch breaks her silence Tuesday. She's expected to arrive by helicopter in her home of Wirt County, W.Va., and give a statement before riding with a motorcade to her newly remodeled home in Palestine.

The statement will be the first that she's made aloud, and Americans everywhere are eager to hear what comes out.

``I think everybody is looking forward to hearing what she has to say,'' said Kay Layne, of Winfield, W. Va., whose son Kelly Layne is an officer in the Navy. ``Nobody has heard her opinions, and she might have a completely different outlook than what people think.''

But Layne doesn't expect an onslaught of information from Lynch upon her arrival.

``I think it will be a while before she gets settled and gets used to being back home and with her family,'' Layne said. ``I think she's going to say, `I'm glad to be home and hopefully things will be get back to normal.' ''

The silence that has protected Lynch and her family during the past three months, during which she's been undergoing physical and occupational therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has added to her mystique and heightened interest, said political observer Bonnie Russell.

``Jessica Lynch hasn't done any interviews. That's why she remains as pure as the driven snow,'' said Russell, who lives in San Diego. ``She wasn't part of the scam or staged TV raids. She had no part in it.

``People want to identify. Who better to identify than with than a cute, naŻve, little blonde lady. I'd want to rescue her. I think it's a shame, but that seems to be what (Americans) really feel is important. Unfortunately, it undermines the real bravery.

``I'm in California. Lacy Peterson, another pretty woman, is the story here.''

Until this military conflict, when you imagined a soldier, you didn't imagine a Jessica Lynch, Layne said. And that fascinates people.

Media built her story's magnitude because of those unusual characteristics, said Jeff McCall, a media critic and professor at Indiana's DePauw University.

``She's a woman near the front lines, she's young, she's an attractive lady and the circumstances of her being captured and injured, it has a lot of interest from the point of novelty,'' he said. ``Not that her service to the country isn't valued, but of all other servicemen and women, I'm sure there are other stories that haven't gotten to the forefront because there has been so much attention on Jessica.''

Other soldiers had their moments. The seven POWs who were released April 12, the day Lynch was flown back to the United States, for example. But attention faded.

Those soldiers dodged the same degree of media hype for various reasons, he said. Shoshana Johnson, who was seen in captivity on Iraqi television, received attention for a time, ``but she's home and she's OK,'' McCall said. ``I think the fact that Jessica was so badly injured is a key factor in that.''

Jessica's story has many emotional characteristics to it, which makes it a good candidate for prime time television, McCall said. But he's not convinced that Lynch will relish her spot there.

``I think media imposes a lot on a private individual to the standpoint of being a national (story),'' he said. ``I'm sure she would rather have not been captured, injured and have the media swooping down and trying to get information about all her injuries.

``(Lynch) is one of many people who have interesting stories. It makes you wonder why media pick up one person and run with it.''

Whatever the reason, Lynch has taken the role of representing ``all of them over there,'' said Randy Yent, whose stepson, Jeremy Duncan, continues to serve in the Middle East with the 187th Infantry Regiment 101 Airborne Division.

``She stands as a reminder of what can happen, what could happen,'' Yent said. ``Whatever the situation of the rescue was, she was in a hospital behind enemy lines not knowing what they were going to do to her or not do to her. I'd be scared. But they know when they sign on that's part of the package.''

All veterans should be treated the way she is upon their return, he said.``Unfortunately, that's not going to happen,'' he said. ``I'm glad she's doing well and is healthy enough to come home, and I hope everyone treats her with dignity and respect.''