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Tuesday, November 11

Lynch steps into public spotlight

By Bob Withers | The Herald-Dispatch

Jessica Lynch is feeling a bit overwhelmed at all the attention she's getting this week.

``It's nice, it really is,'' she said in a telephone interview from New York City on Tuesday morning. ``But it's something I don't want to deal with.''

Nonetheless, Lynch seems to be dealing with a media blitz this week. She is in New York all week, making personal appearances in connection with her biography, ``I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,'' by Rick Bragg, which publisher Alfred A. Knopf released for sale on Veterans Day.

She and fellow Army ex-POW Shoshana Johnson received awards Monday night during Glamour magazine's 2003 salute to ``Women of the Year'' at the American Museum of Natural History. Lori Piestewa, a close friend of Lynch's who was killed during the Iraqi ambush that made Lynch a prisoner of war, also was honored posthumously.

Lynch's interview with Diane Sawyer aired Tuesday night on ABC News' ``Primetime.'' Katie Couric will talk with Lynch and Bragg on NBC's ``Today'' show Wednesday morning and Lynch and her family on Thursday. That night, she will tape a segment for CBS' ``The Late Show with David Letterman,'' which will air Friday night.

When she returns to West Virginia, Lynch is scheduled to make bookstore appearances in Charleston on Friday and Parkersburg on Saturday.

On Monday, Lynch goes to Washington for a live spot on CNN's ``Larry King Live'' that night. From there, the schedule calls for more book signings in Annapolis, Md., on Monday; Arlington, Va., on Tuesday; Marietta, Ga., on Nov. 20; and Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 21.

Hectic, to be sure, but that's not to say that the spotlight doesn't have its moments.

Lynch met several stars during Monday night's Glamour gala, including Ellen DeGeneres, Britney Spears and Sharon Stone.

``I think they're nice,'' Lynch said. ``Down to earth.''

But all that's a far cry from being home in remote Palestine, W.Va.

``There's always that comfort thing there,'' she said.

Lynch still wants to become a kindergarten teacher. That's why she joined the Army in the first place, to earn money for college. But the timetable may have to change.

``I haven't decided yet what school I will go to,'' she said. ``I want to finish therapy first, and I don't know how long that will take.''

After her rescue from Saddam Hospital in Nasiriyah, Iraq, just after midnight April 2, Lynch was hospitalized in the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for almost four months before returning to West Virginia. She undergoes therapy in Mineral Wells for two hours a day, five days a week.

Some of her plans are proceeding apace, though. She plans to marry Ruben Contreras - another member of the 507th Maintenance Company she met at Fort Bliss, Texas - in June, although she won't divulge the date.

``It's a special day for me and I don't want a whole bunch of news media there,'' she said.

When Lynch was asked why she didn't meet Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi attorney who tipped off U.S. military forces about Lynch's location in Nasiriyah, when al-Rehaief visited West Virginia on Oct. 27, Bragg wouldn't let her answer at first.

``Jessica has said she's very grateful for what he did - and what other Iraqis did,'' he said. ``She's said that over and over again. She says that in the book. She has said that she wants to meet him without the cameras rolling.''

Then, after a pause, Lynch spoke up.

``I am thankful for what he did,'' she said. ``I didn't want to make it a publicity stunt. I want to meet him without the cameras, without the media, so I can thank him personally.''

Lynch refused to comment about a report in Tuesday's New York Daily News that Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine has obtained photos of her posing topless with soldiers at Fort Bliss before they were deployed.

``We're not going to talk about that,'' Bragg said.

The New York Post's online edition said Flynt said he bought the photos to keep them off the market, and the photos would not be published.

Meanwhile, sales of Lynch's book were mixed on the first day of its release in West Virginia.

Drug Emporium near The Huntington Mall had sold none, but a sales manager at Borders Books Music & Cafe in the mall said the book was selling well there.

``We never talk about numbers, but we had people lined up at the door when we opened at 10 o'clock,'' Lill Neace said. By midafternoon Tuesday, five local Fruth Pharmacy locations had sold a total of eight copies.

``I wanted to read the story, and I wanted it so my grandchildren can read it,'' said Lujean Young, the pharmacy technician. ``She's from West Virginia. She was brave. And I want my grandchildren to learn some things firsthand about the Gulf War. They're too young right at the moment.''

Sheila Jennings, a clerk at the Gallaher branch of the Cabell County Public Library, bought the third copy sold by People's News on Tuesday afternoon.

``We've heard so much about Jessica through the news media, I wanted to hear her side of the story,'' she said. ``It's an honor that she is a West Virginian and that she has portrayed our state so positively.''

Donna McCoy, Gallaher's branch manager, who was shopping with Jennings, did not buy a book.

``The library is going to get it, and I'll read it,'' she said.

McCoy, a co-chair of the Ohio River Festival of Books in May, said Bragg will be at the festival.

``I'll buy one then, and have him sign it,'' she said.