I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story

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On March 23, 2003, Private First Class Jessica Lynch was crossing the Iraqi desert with the 507th Maintenance Company when the convoy she was traveling in was ambushed, caught in enemy cross fire. All four soldiers traveling with her died in the attack. Lynch, one of the most famous P.O.W.'s this country has ever known, was taken prisoner and held captive in an Iraqi hospital for nine days. Her rescue galvanized the nation; she became a symbol of victory, of innocence and courage, of heroism; and then, just as ...
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New York 2003 Hard Cover First Edition (stated) New in Near Fine jacket 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. FIRST PRINTING of the First Edition (stated). A semi-autobiographical portrait of ... Jessica Lynch, the woman soldier who was captured by Iraqis during the 2003 invasion of that country, she being wounded, treated, and held in an Iraqi hospital until being rescured in a dramatic mission by US special forces. Has much information on her family background, how and why she joing the Army, her experiences in uniform, what it was like in captivity, her return home, much more. Hardcover with dust jacket, 207pp., tiny remainders mark. Read more Show Less

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I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story

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Overview

On March 23, 2003, Private First Class Jessica Lynch was crossing the Iraqi desert with the 507th Maintenance Company when the convoy she was traveling in was ambushed, caught in enemy cross fire. All four soldiers traveling with her died in the attack. Lynch, one of the most famous P.O.W.'s this country has ever known, was taken prisoner and held captive in an Iraqi hospital for nine days. Her rescue galvanized the nation; she became a symbol of victory, of innocence and courage, of heroism; and then, just as quickly, of deceit and manipulation. What never changed, as the nation veered wildly between these extremes of mythmaking, was her story, the events and the experiences of a nineteen-year-old girl caught up in what was and will remain the battle of her life: what she saw, what she felt, what she experienced, what she survived.

I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story is the story this country has hungered for, as told by Lynch herself to Pulitzer Prize -- winning author Rick Bragg. In it, she tells what really happened in the ambush; what really happened in the hospital; what really happened, from her perspective, on the night of the rescue. More than this, the collaboration between Lynch and Bragg captures who she is and where she's from: her childhood in Palestine, West Virginia, a lovely, rugged stretch of land always referred to as the hollow, where she rode horses, played softball, and was crowned Miss Congeniality at the Wirt County Fair the same year the steer she raised took a ribbon. It reveals her relationships with her older brother, Greg Jr., also an enlisted soldier, and her younger sister, Brandi; with her father, Greg Sr., a forty-three-year-old truck driver who has at times worked construction, cut hay, cut firewood, hauled timber, hauled concrete, run a bulldozer, run a backhoe, cleaned houses, and dug graves; and with her mother, Deadra, a city girl from Parkersburg who moved to the hollow and met her future husband when he was eleven and she was nine. And it describes what happened to the Lynch family in the agony of Jessica's capture and captivity; the terror and disbelief that cascaded through an entire town at the news of her disappearance into enemy hands; the joy of her rescue; and the long work of healing and recovery that lie ahead. Jessica Lynch has won the hearts and minds of Americans.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Former POW and media darling Private Jessica Lynch recounts to award-winning journalist Rick Bragg the terrifying tale of her capture, imprisonment, and rescue in Iraq and the impact of her ordeal on her close-knit, loving family in rural West Virginia.
From the Publisher
“Riveting. . . . The straight story on Lynch’s remarkable ordeal.” --Entertainment Weekly

“Finely wrought. . . . A vivid portrait of a young woman who fled the familiar and fell into a situation beyond her control.” —New York Daily News

“Deftly, respectfully, movingly, Bragg has written Lynch’s story with extraordinary powerÉ. Brave, convincing and wonderfully sweet.” --The Baltimore Sun

“Bragg brilliantly paints a portrait. . . . Lynch’s voice is heard, and through her eyes, we learn the importance of what it means to be an American.” —The Oklahoman

“Rick Bragg . . . deftly separates fact from conjecture. . . . A convincing record . . . a minor miracle.--Winston Salem Journal

“Bragg is a gifted wordsmith. He crafts wonderful sentences. . . . He writes lovingly and beautifully about the hills of West Virginia where Lynch was born and raised.” --San Francisco Chronicle

“Bragg tells the story as Jessica lived it . . . [and] in the telling, her story illuminates the stories of countless others.” --San Antonio Express-News

“There is probably more truth--sweet, human, undeniable truth--in Rick Bragg’s fine book, I Am A Soldier, Too than we have seen in anything about her experience so far--including the nightly news. For here, captured in Bragg’s distinctive prose, his appreciation of working people and their hardships, Jessica Lynch’s story comes into its full surround as a quintessentially American journey.” --The New Orleans Times-Picayune

I Am a Soldier, Too does Jessica Lynch’s story justice without contributing to the distortion that has plagued it.” --The Plain Dealer

“A compelling story.” --Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Lyrical. . . . Bragg is a storyteller. . . . He knows how to use palpable detail to put us inside the emotions of his characters.” --Orlando Sentinel

“Bragg . . . gives a cinematic account of the desperate firefight that mortally wounded Lynch’s Army buddy, Lori Piestewa, and 10 others. . . . Lynch’s painful recovery . . . is vividly described.” --The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Lynch is a true hero in the best tradition of a nation that intuitively prefers modest honesty to grandstanding bravado.” --Los Angeles Times

“There is a modesty about Lynch in the book . . . that is at odds with the months-long media ruckus over her ordeal.” --The Wall Street Journal

“A gripping account of the fight that engulfed Lynch and 32 fellow members of the 507th Maintenance Company. . . . This book is a survival narrative, a story of fighting against fear and pain and isolation and trying desperately to sustain hope.” --Houston Chronicle

“Bragg skillfully gives the story depth and immediacy.” --Ft. Worth Star-Telegram

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400042579
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/11/2003
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.46 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Rick Bragg
Rick Bragg is the bestselling author of All Over but the Shoutin’, Somebody Told Me, Ava’s Man, and I Am a Soldier Too: The Jessica Lynch Story. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1996. He lives in Alabama.

Biography

Rick Bragg caught his first break as a journalist when the competition for his first newspaper job decided to stick with his current position in a fast-food restaurant. From there, Bragg has moved from small newspapers in Alabama to the likes of The St. Petersburg Times, the Los Angeles Times and, finally, The New York Times.

He eventually won a reputation in one newsroom as "the misery writer." His assignments: Hurricane Andrew, Miami rioting, Haiti, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman accused of drowning her two boys in 1994 by driving her car into a lake. In 1996, while at the Times, Bragg covered the terrorist bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and won the Pulitzer Prize.

"I've really served at all stations of the cross," Bragg said in a December 2002 interview with Writer magazine. "I've been pretty much everywhere. I don't think there's a difference between writing for a newspaper or magazine and doing a chapter in a book. People who think there is something pedestrian about journalism are just ignorant. The best writers who have put pen to paper have often had a journalism background. There are these boutique writers out there who think if they are not writing their novels sitting at a bistro with their laptops, then they're not real writers. That's ridiculous."

[Bragg left The New York Times in 2003 after questions surfaced regarding his use of uncredited stringers for some of his reporting. Bragg's departure was part of a larger ethics scandal that also claimed the newspaper's top two editors.]

Bragg's memoir, All Over but the Shoutin', recounts these stations, particularly his hardscrabble youth in rural Alabama, where he was brought up by a single mother who sacrificed everything for her children.

"In his sad, beautiful, funny and moving memoir...Rick Bragg gives us a report from the forgotten heart of 'white trash' America, a sort of Pilgrim's Progress or Up from Slavery about how a clever and determined young man outwitted fate," The New York Times Book Review wrote in 1997. "The story he tells, of white suffering and disenfranchisement, is one too seldom heard. It is as if a descendant from one of the hollow-eyed children from Let Us Now Praise Famous Men had stepped out of a photograph to tell his own story, to narrate an experience that even Agee could not penetrate because he was not himself 'trash.' "

In 2001, Bragg went back a generation in his family's story and wrote about his grandfather, a hard-drinking fighter who made whiskey in backwoods stills along the Alabama-Georgia border and died at 51. His widow would rebuff her grandchildren's questions about remarrying: "No, hon, I ain't gonna get me no man...I had me one."

The Los Angeles Times called Ava's Man "a big book, at once tough and sentimental," while The New York Times said, "It is hard to think of a writer who reminds us more forcefully and wonderfully of what people and families are all about."

Bragg acknowledges that his language is stolen -- plucked from the mouths of the family members he has interviewed, filling notebooks and jotting stories on whatever was at hand -- the back of airplane tickets, for example. The biggest challenge, he would later say, was finding an order in the mess of folksy storytelling. "Talking to my people is like herding cats," he told The Kansas City Star in 2002. "You can't rely on them to walk down the road and not run into the bushes."

And, then, there would be the recollection that would come along just a little too late.

"The most agonizing thing was to finish the manuscript, know that I had pleased [the family], then have one of them say, ‘Oh, yeah, hon, I just thought of something else' -- and it would be the best story you ever heard," he told the Star.

Good To Know

Bragg brought his mother, Margaret, to New York for the Pulitzer Prize ceremony. She had never been to the city, never been on an airplane, never ridden on an escalator, and hadn't bought a dress for herself in 18 years.

In an interview with Writer, Bragg describes life as a newspaper correspondent: "If I travel for the paper, that means I fly to a city I've probably never been to, get off a plane, rent a car, drive out in bumper-to-bumper traffic heading for a little town that nobody knows the name of and can't give me directions to, and it's not on the map. When I get there, I try to get information in 15 minutes for a story I have to write in 45."

He wrote Ava's Man because his fans wanted to know more about his mother's childhood.

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    1. Hometown:
      New Orleans, Louisiana
    1. Date of Birth:
      July 26, 1959
    2. Place of Birth:
      Possum Trot, Alabama
    1. Education:
      Attended Jacksonville State University for six months in 1970; attended Harvard University, 1992-1993

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
The Deadliest Day

SOUTHERN IRAQ -- March 2003

The recruiter said she would travel. Now, twenty months after enlistment, nineteen-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch steered her groaning diesel truck across a hateful landscape of grating sand and sucking mud, hauling four hundred gallons of water in the rough direction of Baghdad on a mission that just felt bad. Back home, boys with tears in their eyes had offered to marry her, to build her a brand-new house, anything, to get her to stay forever in the high, green lonesome. She told them no, told them she was going to see the world.

But the recruiter had not told any lies. He offered her a way to make some money for college, so that, when this hitch was over, she could become the kindergarten teacher she wanted to be. And he offered a way to escape the inertia of the West Virginia hills, a place so beautiful that a young person can forget, sometimes until she is very old, that she is standing still. In the process, she would serve her country, something people in her part of America still say without worrying that someone will roll his eyes.

She bought it. They all had, pretty much: all the soldiers around her, the sons and daughters of endangered blue-collar workers, immigrant families and single mothers-a United States Army borrowed from tract houses, brick ranchers and back roads. The not-quite beneficiaries of trickle-down economics, they had traded uncertain futures for dead-certain paychecks and a place in the adventure that they had heard their ancestors talk of as they'd twisted wrenches, pounded IBM Selectrics and packed lunches for the plants that closed their doors before the next generation could build a life from them.

The military never closed its doors, and service was passed down like a gold pocket watch. Sometimes it was a good safe bet, all beer gardens and G.I. Bills, and sometimes it was snake eyes, and the soldiers found themselves at a Chosin Reservoir, or a Hue, or on a wrong turn to An Nasiriyah.

As the convoy of big diesels waddled across the sand, the world she saw was flat, dull and yellow-brown, except where the water had turned the dust to reddish paste. She got excited when she saw a tree. Trees made sense. She had grown up in the woods, where solid walls of hardwood had sunk roots deep into the hillsides and kept the ground pulled tight, as it should be, to the planet. All this empty space and loose, shifting sand unsettled her mind and made her feel lost, long before she found out it was true.

She was afraid. The big trucks had been breaking down since they left the base in Kuwait, giving in to the grit that ate at the moving parts or bogging down in the mud and sand like wallowing cows. Her convoy, part of the 507th Maintenance Company deployed from Fort Bliss, Texas, was at the tail end of a massive supply line that stretched from the Kuwaiti border through southern Iraq, a caravan loaded with food, fuel, water, spare parts and toilet paper. Her convoy followed the route that had already been rutted or churned up by the columns ahead, and every time a five-ton truck hit a soft place and bottomed out, the thirty-three vehicles in Jessica's convoy dropped farther behind.

Jessica just remembers a foreboding, a feeling that the convoy was staggering into enemy country without purpose or direction. Two days into the mission, the convoy had dropped so far behind that it had lost radio contact with the rest of the column. One of the far-ahead convoys carried her boyfriend, Sergeant Ruben Contreras, who had promised he would look after her. The day they left Kuwait, his column had pulled out just ahead of hers-in plain view. Now he had vanished in the distance along with the rest.

The convoy shrank every day as the heavy trucks just sank into the sand and came apart. In just two days, the thirty-three vehicles in the convoy had dwindled to eighteen, and two of them were being towed by wreckers. One day, it took five hours to lurch just nine miles. To make up that distance and time, the soldiers in the 507th slept little or not at all. They were cooks, clerks and mechanics, none of them tested in combat. They became bone weary and sleepwalked through the days.

Jessica began to wonder, if her truck broke down, would anyone even notice her at the side of the road? There was a lot to be afraid of here. But that was what she was most afraid of, whether it was reasonable or not. She was afraid of being left behind.

"I hoped that someone would see me, that someone would pick me up," she said. "Someone would stop. But you didn't know it. You didn't know."

Everyone knew what Saddam's soldiers did to women captives. In her worst nightmares, she stood alone in that desert as the trucks of her own army pulled away. In her mind, which she struggled to keep clear as the days and nights faded together, she could see the Iraqis rise up out of the sand to come and get her.

"I didn't want to be left out there. I didn't want to be left out there on my own. Even though stuff didn't look right with the convoy, it was better than being alone."

It was not a paralyzing fear, nothing that stopped her from doing her duty. It was simple dread.

Three days into their mission, as she rode with a sergeant, the transfer case in her five-ton truck "just busted"-and they were stranded. As if in her finely tailored nightmare, the big trucks did just grind past. Not all of them had working radios, only orders to push ahead, to make up the lost time. For a few bleak heartbeats, it looked as if her little-girl's fear was real. Then a Humvee swerved off the road, and the driver beckoned to her. "Get in." It was PFC Lori Ann Piestewa, her best friend. The sergeant hopped in another truck, and they rolled on.

A Hopi from Arizona who had been Jessica's roommate at Fort Bliss, Lori was recovering from an injured shoulder and had been given the choice of whether or not to deploy with her unit to Iraq. She went because Jessi did. A twenty-three-year-old mother of two, PFC Piestewa knew that her roommate was nervous, and she did not want her to face the desert, and war, on her own. "She stopped," said Jessica. "She picked me up. I love her."

*

Far ahead, Sergeant Ruben Contreras sat in his truck as it rolled across the sands, cloaked in the sense of invincibility that a machine gun tends to lend. He was twenty-three, hopelessly in love with a five-foot-three, hundred-pound waif from a little bitty place called Palestine, West Virginia, and sick with worry. He was supposed to eyeball the road, to sweep the horizon for signs of trouble, but his thoughts were tugged back along the ruts his unit had cut in the sand.

Where was she?

At least, if everything went according to plan, there was a big, big army between his girlfriend and danger. If everything went according to plan, a shooting fight along the assigned route was unlikely for the supply line soldiers who were purposefully skirting trouble spots, including heavily defended Nasiriyah.

"If there was any comfort, it was knowing that anything that was gonna harm her was gonna have to come through me first," he said. Rumbling over the sand, the convoys had seemed like an endless train, bound for the same place, bound together.

Jessi's convoy would be fine, he tried to convince himself. The only way it could come to real harm would be if it got lost, if the officer in charge wandered off course and into the hornet's nest of fighters loyal to Saddam who still controlled the cities and towns like Nasiriyah. Such a thing could never happen.

*

It was not a wrong turn, merely a missed one.

The little convoy of stragglers rolled into Nasiriyah in the early morning of March 23-right downtown.

The army, which usually does not use such colorful language in its reports, would later describe what happened next as "a torrent of fire."

*

When Jessica thinks about it now, she closes her eyes.

"They were blowing us up."

The Iraqis fired point-blank into the trucks with rocket-propelled grenades, shattering metal and glass, shredding tires. Soldiers leapt from them and were shot down by Iraqis with

AK-47 assault rifles who swarmed across rooftops and leaned from windows. A tank rattled up, its cannon tracking toward the trucks that growled and swerved through the dust and smoke, but the convoy was already in ruins. Some U.S. soldiers raced to cover and fought back; others clawed frantically at M16s that had jammed from the grime. Inside the Humvee with Lori, a sergeant and two other soldiers, Jessica watched bullets punch through the windshield, and she lowered her head to her knees, shut her eyes and began to pray.

*

It was a slow Sunday, winding down from a slow Saturday, in Palestine, West Virginia. Cody, the old dog that had never been quite the same after being shot by a hunter some years before, played dead on the front porch. Inside the white A-frame house that had been built on a foundation of hundred-year-old logs, Deadra and Greg Lynch, Jessi's parents, watched the television news. In the afternoon, CNN said a maintenance convoy had been ambushed. The network showed a video image of a truck, its doors blown away, blood running down its side. CNN said it was the 507th, and Greg told Dee not to panic, even as something like an icepick gouged at his chest. But people here have sat up late with a lot of wars, and they know that the army usually tells bad news in person. As darkness dropped on the hollow, the only visitors were friends and kin, as word spread as if by magic through the trees that one of their own was in peril.

About 11:15 p.m., a friend called from the door, "There's a trooper car comin'."

A state trooper and another man, in an army uniform, got out of the car and walked up the drive.

Dee screamed.

Like her daughter, she just wanted to hide, to make it go away.

So she just ran, as fast as she could, barefoot on the cold rocks, into the dark.

Chapter Two
Princess

Her bangs were always perfect.

Radiant in her burgundy form-hugging gown, she was crowned Miss Congeniality at the 2000 Wirt County Fair. Even the steer she raised took a ribbon that year, a good year, her last at Wirt County High. Her sister and brother called her, with only a little meanness, the princess, and she reigned over a mountain landscape that reached all the way from Singing Hills to Reedy Creek. Here, she learned to drive on roads that twisted like a snake on fire, guiding her mom's Toyota 4¥4 pickup through places like Mingo Bottom, Lucille, Blue Goose and Folly Run, past plywood placards that offered molasses for eight dollars a quart and church marquees that promised everlasting life. In time, it all became so familiar that she barely saw it anymore, barely noticed the letters painted on century-old barns and roadside signs that begged passersby to remember rod with love, or chew mail pouch tobacco, or the puzzling pinch yorself-if you feel it, it ain't jesus. It is the place where she walked a swinging bridge to see her late great-grandpa, where she played popgun soldier in the deep woods with her baby sister and her older brother, who chewed the feet off her Barbie dolls. This is where she broke her arm on the playground slide, and broke David Huber's second-grade heart, where she crashed into the right field fence after fly balls, dove onto the hardwood gym floor after loose balls, then got up and adjusted her socks.

Her kin believe she is alive, in part, because she is from this place, because she has the right blood in her. They know that doctors in three countries brought her back from near-death, that soldiers rescued her as her wounds festered, that millions prayed. Still, even though she is small and a little prissy, she carries the blood of the mountains-the blood of people who fought and worked and loved here. Even if it is not a thing that anyone can prove, it makes people glad to believe it. If that is a bad thing, then what are legends for ?

*

Her family has lived here for going on two centuries now, farming the bottomland and raising cattle and horses, or working factory jobs in the small industrial cities that dot the mountains just east of the Ohio River. Like most people here, her people do not see themselves as Southern or Northern, just By God West Virginian-in a state so conflicted during the Civil War that sometimes nothing more than a wooden fence divided sympathies, and brothers really did kill brothers. It is still a land of feuds, where people wait a month, or a lifetime, to settle a grudge over a stolen can of gasoline or a wounded dog.

The passing decades stitched power lines across the ridges and laid asphalt roads through the bottomland, where the acres are dotted with white farmhouses, fat cows and round hay bales. Every hollow seems to have a little wooden house built snug against walls of rock and trees. But there are still long stretches here where the thin roads seem merely temporary, a playground for the sleek does that bound light as air from ditch to ditch and the arrogant beavers and fat groundhogs that waddle across the blacktop like they own it, then crash off into the weeds with the grace of bowling balls.

At night, the trees and the up-and-down landscape drape black curtains over the hollows and make the houses seem even more isolated than they are. After supper the men stand on the porches with cups of coffee in their hands and joke about haunts and noises in the dark, and it is easy to imagine that the creak of pine limbs in the wind is really the squeak of saddle leather from some long-dead but restless rebel patrol.

Here, they never stopped praying in schools, and eleven-year-old boys who feel the call stand up in front of congregations in the white clapboard churches and order them to drop down hard on wall-to-wall carpet and be saved. People still fast here-as sacrifice, as proof of faith-when a friend or relative is sick or in trouble, and women who go to the hospital for surgery come home to find tables crowded with covered dishes and their laundry washed, pressed and stacked. There is no such thing as babysitting, but people offer to "keep your kids." Almost every driveway has a pickup, and every toolshed has a chain saw. Without a chain saw, the ice storms-which come almost every year-would maroon the little houses. Men cut for days at a maze of slick, glittering toppled trees to clear a driveway or a mile of road. Snow they can handle, but they hate the ice.

Continued...

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Hero 3
1 The Deadliest Day 7
2 Princess 14
3 Last Chances, and a Chance at War 30
4 Boot 36
5 Lori 48
6 Ruben 56
7 Lost 60
8 Taken 70
9 Damaged 79
10 M.I.A. 82
11 Time Standing Still 85
12 Wounds 95
13 The Enemy? 97
14 Hope 105
15 Saddam General 110
16 A Blonde Captive 121
17 Travels 128
18 A Soldier, Too 129
19 Under the Sand 133
20 Miracle 135
21 Love Letters 145
22 "Come Get Me" 147
23 Heroes Everywhere 152
24 Not Knowing Who to Hate 162
25 Changes 174
26 Barn Raising 181
27 Home 187
28 Normal? 197
29 The Long Shadow of Jessica Lynch 202
Acknowledgments 205
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First Chapter

Chapter One
The Deadliest Day

SOUTHERN IRAQ -- March 2003

The recruiter said she would travel. Now, twenty months after enlistment, nineteen-year-old Private First Class Jessica Lynch steered her groaning diesel truck across a hateful landscape of grating sand and sucking mud, hauling four hundred gallons of water in the rough direction of Baghdad on a mission that just felt bad. Back home, boys with tears in their eyes had offered to marry her, to build her a brand-new house, anything, to get her to stay forever in the high, green lonesome. She told them no, told them she was going to see the world.

But the recruiter had not told any lies. He offered her a way to make some money for college, so that, when this hitch was over, she could become the kindergarten teacher she wanted to be. And he offered a way to escape the inertia of the West Virginia hills, a place so beautiful that a young person can forget, sometimes until she is very old, that she is standing still. In the process, she would serve her country, something people in her part of America still say without worrying that someone will roll his eyes.

She bought it. They all had, pretty much: all the soldiers around her, the sons and daughters of endangered blue-collar workers, immigrant families and single mothers-a United States Army borrowed from tract houses, brick ranchers and back roads. The not-quite beneficiaries of trickle-down economics, they had traded uncertain futures for dead-certain paychecks and a place in the adventure that they had heard their ancestors talk of as they'd twisted wrenches, pounded IBM Selectrics and packed lunches for the plants that closed their doors beforethe next generation could build a life from them.

The military never closed its doors, and service was passed down like a gold pocket watch. Sometimes it was a good safe bet, all beer gardens and G.I. Bills, and sometimes it was snake eyes, and the soldiers found themselves at a Chosin Reservoir, or a Hue, or on a wrong turn to An Nasiriyah.

As the convoy of big diesels waddled across the sand, the world she saw was flat, dull and yellow-brown, except where the water had turned the dust to reddish paste. She got excited when she saw a tree. Trees made sense. She had grown up in the woods, where solid walls of hardwood had sunk roots deep into the hillsides and kept the ground pulled tight, as it should be, to the planet. All this empty space and loose, shifting sand unsettled her mind and made her feel lost, long before she found out it was true.

She was afraid. The big trucks had been breaking down since they left the base in Kuwait, giving in to the grit that ate at the moving parts or bogging down in the mud and sand like wallowing cows. Her convoy, part of the 507th Maintenance Company deployed from Fort Bliss, Texas, was at the tail end of a massive supply line that stretched from the Kuwaiti border through southern Iraq, a caravan loaded with food, fuel, water, spare parts and toilet paper. Her convoy followed the route that had already been rutted or churned up by the columns ahead, and every time a five-ton truck hit a soft place and bottomed out, the thirty-three vehicles in Jessica's convoy dropped farther behind.

Jessica just remembers a foreboding, a feeling that the convoy was staggering into enemy country without purpose or direction. Two days into the mission, the convoy had dropped so far behind that it had lost radio contact with the rest of the column. One of the far-ahead convoys carried her boyfriend, Sergeant Ruben Contreras, who had promised he would look after her. The day they left Kuwait, his column had pulled out just ahead of hers-in plain view. Now he had vanished in the distance along with the rest.

The convoy shrank every day as the heavy trucks just sank into the sand and came apart. In just two days, the thirty-three vehicles in the convoy had dwindled to eighteen, and two of them were being towed by wreckers. One day, it took five hours to lurch just nine miles. To make up that distance and time, the soldiers in the 507th slept little or not at all. They were cooks, clerks and mechanics, none of them tested in combat. They became bone weary and sleepwalked through the days.

Jessica began to wonder, if her truck broke down, would anyone even notice her at the side of the road? There was a lot to be afraid of here. But that was what she was most afraid of, whether it was reasonable or not. She was afraid of being left behind.

"I hoped that someone would see me, that someone would pick me up," she said. "Someone would stop. But you didn't know it. You didn't know."

Everyone knew what Saddam's soldiers did to women captives. In her worst nightmares, she stood alone in that desert as the trucks of her own army pulled away. In her mind, which she struggled to keep clear as the days and nights faded together, she could see the Iraqis rise up out of the sand to come and get her.

"I didn't want to be left out there. I didn't want to be left out there on my own. Even though stuff didn't look right with the convoy, it was better than being alone."

It was not a paralyzing fear, nothing that stopped her from doing her duty. It was simple dread.

Three days into their mission, as she rode with a sergeant, the transfer case in her five-ton truck "just busted"-and they were stranded. As if in her finely tailored nightmare, the big trucks did just grind past. Not all of them had working radios, only orders to push ahead, to make up the lost time. For a few bleak heartbeats, it looked as if her little-girl's fear was real. Then a Humvee swerved off the road, and the driver beckoned to her. "Get in." It was PFC Lori Ann Piestewa, her best friend. The sergeant hopped in another truck, and they rolled on.

A Hopi from Arizona who had been Jessica's roommate at Fort Bliss, Lori was recovering from an injured shoulder and had been given the choice of whether or not to deploy with her unit to Iraq. She went because Jessi did. A twenty-three-year-old mother of two, PFC Piestewa knew that her roommate was nervous, and she did not want her to face the desert, and war, on her own. "She stopped," said Jessica. "She picked me up. I love her."

*

Far ahead, Sergeant Ruben Contreras sat in his truck as it rolled across the sands, cloaked in the sense of invincibility that a machine gun tends to lend. He was twenty-three, hopelessly in love with a five-foot-three, hundred-pound waif from a little bitty place called Palestine, West Virginia, and sick with worry. He was supposed to eyeball the road, to sweep the horizon for signs of trouble, but his thoughts were tugged back along the ruts his unit had cut in the sand.

Where was she?

At least, if everything went according to plan, there was a big, big army between his girlfriend and danger. If everything went according to plan, a shooting fight along the assigned route was unlikely for the supply line soldiers who were purposefully skirting trouble spots, including heavily defended Nasiriyah.

"If there was any comfort, it was knowing that anything that was gonna harm her was gonna have to come through me first," he said. Rumbling over the sand, the convoys had seemed like an endless train, bound for the same place, bound together.

Jessi's convoy would be fine, he tried to convince himself. The only way it could come to real harm would be if it got lost, if the officer in charge wandered off course and into the hornet's nest of fighters loyal to Saddam who still controlled the cities and towns like Nasiriyah. Such a thing could never happen.

*

It was not a wrong turn, merely a missed one.

The little convoy of stragglers rolled into Nasiriyah in the early morning of March 23-right downtown.

The army, which usually does not use such colorful language in its reports, would later describe what happened next as "a torrent of fire."

*

When Jessica thinks about it now, she closes her eyes.

"They were blowing us up."

The Iraqis fired point-blank into the trucks with rocket-propelled grenades, shattering metal and glass, shredding tires. Soldiers leapt from them and were shot down by Iraqis with

AK-47 assault rifles who swarmed across rooftops and leaned from windows. A tank rattled up, its cannon tracking toward the trucks that growled and swerved through the dust and smoke, but the convoy was already in ruins. Some U.S. soldiers raced to cover and fought back; others clawed frantically at M16s that had jammed from the grime. Inside the Humvee with Lori, a sergeant and two other soldiers, Jessica watched bullets punch through the windshield, and she lowered her head to her knees, shut her eyes and began to pray.

*

It was a slow Sunday, winding down from a slow Saturday, in Palestine, West Virginia. Cody, the old dog that had never been quite the same after being shot by a hunter some years before, played dead on the front porch. Inside the white A-frame house that had been built on a foundation of hundred-year-old logs, Deadra and Greg Lynch, Jessi's parents, watched the television news. In the afternoon, CNN said a maintenance convoy had been ambushed. The network showed a video image of a truck, its doors blown away, blood running down its side. CNN said it was the 507th, and Greg told Dee not to panic, even as something like an icepick gouged at his chest. But people here have sat up late with a lot of wars, and they know that the army usually tells bad news in person. As darkness dropped on the hollow, the only visitors were friends and kin, as word spread as if by magic through the trees that one of their own was in peril.

About 11:15 p.m., a friend called from the door, "There's a trooper car comin'."

A state trooper and another man, in an army uniform, got out of the car and walked up the drive.

Dee screamed.

Like her daughter, she just wanted to hide, to make it go away.

So she just ran, as fast as she could, barefoot on the cold rocks, into the dark.


Chapter Two
Princess

Her bangs were always perfect.

Radiant in her burgundy form-hugging gown, she was crowned Miss Congeniality at the 2000 Wirt County Fair. Even the steer she raised took a ribbon that year, a good year, her last at Wirt County High. Her sister and brother called her, with only a little meanness, the princess, and she reigned over a mountain landscape that reached all the way from Singing Hills to Reedy Creek. Here, she learned to drive on roads that twisted like a snake on fire, guiding her mom's Toyota 4¥4 pickup through places like Mingo Bottom, Lucille, Blue Goose and Folly Run, past plywood placards that offered molasses for eight dollars a quart and church marquees that promised everlasting life. In time, it all became so familiar that she barely saw it anymore, barely noticed the letters painted on century-old barns and roadside signs that begged passersby to remember rod with love, or chew mail pouch tobacco, or the puzzling pinch yorself-if you feel it, it ain't jesus. It is the place where she walked a swinging bridge to see her late great-grandpa, where she played popgun soldier in the deep woods with her baby sister and her older brother, who chewed the feet off her Barbie dolls. This is where she broke her arm on the playground slide, and broke David Huber's second-grade heart, where she crashed into the right field fence after fly balls, dove onto the hardwood gym floor after loose balls, then got up and adjusted her socks.

Her kin believe she is alive, in part, because she is from this place, because she has the right blood in her. They know that doctors in three countries brought her back from near-death, that soldiers rescued her as her wounds festered, that millions prayed. Still, even though she is small and a little prissy, she carries the blood of the mountains-the blood of people who fought and worked and loved here. Even if it is not a thing that anyone can prove, it makes people glad to believe it. If that is a bad thing, then what are legends for ?

*

Her family has lived here for going on two centuries now, farming the bottomland and raising cattle and horses, or working factory jobs in the small industrial cities that dot the mountains just east of the Ohio River. Like most people here, her people do not see themselves as Southern or Northern, just By God West Virginian-in a state so conflicted during the Civil War that sometimes nothing more than a wooden fence divided sympathies, and brothers really did kill brothers. It is still a land of feuds, where people wait a month, or a lifetime, to settle a grudge over a stolen can of gasoline or a wounded dog.

The passing decades stitched power lines across the ridges and laid asphalt roads through the bottomland, where the acres are dotted with white farmhouses, fat cows and round hay bales. Every hollow seems to have a little wooden house built snug against walls of rock and trees. But there are still long stretches here where the thin roads seem merely temporary, a playground for the sleek does that bound light as air from ditch to ditch and the arrogant beavers and fat groundhogs that waddle across the blacktop like they own it, then crash off into the weeds with the grace of bowling balls.

At night, the trees and the up-and-down landscape drape black curtains over the hollows and make the houses seem even more isolated than they are. After supper the men stand on the porches with cups of coffee in their hands and joke about haunts and noises in the dark, and it is easy to imagine that the creak of pine limbs in the wind is really the squeak of saddle leather from some long-dead but restless rebel patrol.

Here, they never stopped praying in schools, and eleven-year-old boys who feel the call stand up in front of congregations in the white clapboard churches and order them to drop down hard on wall-to-wall carpet and be saved. People still fast here-as sacrifice, as proof of faith-when a friend or relative is sick or in trouble, and women who go to the hospital for surgery come home to find tables crowded with covered dishes and their laundry washed, pressed and stacked. There is no such thing as babysitting, but people offer to "keep your kids." Almost every driveway has a pickup, and every toolshed has a chain saw. Without a chain saw, the ice storms-which come almost every year-would maroon the little houses. Men cut for days at a maze of slick, glittering toppled trees to clear a driveway or a mile of road. Snow they can handle, but they hate the ice.

Continued...


From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright© 2003 by Rick Bragg
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 26 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2003

    A Reader in Absolute Disgust

    As the daughter of a soldier in the United States Army, I was extremely offended by the account rendered in this book. We all know what a pity it was that this young woman was put through this trying time, but it is in no way fair to hold her above all those others that have died, been injured, maimed, or worse, for their country. She got to come home, the men who died in Somalia in 1993, did not. The other 11 casualties from her company went home in boxes. She has the nerve to say that her rescue was overdramaticized and she never wanted to be a part of something that supported the war in Iraq. I think she is suffering from an acute case of Wesley Clark-itis: one moment supporting the US Military, and then the next, defaming and slandering it to gain personal recognition. People are now calling her a hero and a victim of the Bush administration. She is no hero, heroes do not seek credit to their name, nor pity--her ordeal is a sad one, but not a new one. She was a clerk in a Maintenance Company that took a wrong turn, and instead of focusing thanks and praise on a military that make the ultimate sacrifice to protect the right of ungrateful Americans to slander them, she did what every Liberal in America wanted--retired from the Army and made herself appear robbed by the Bush Administration. Amazing how it happened after medals were awarded and honors given--Wesley Clark anyone? Maybe she'll be a guest speaker on his campaign trail, since lies are all the democrats seem to be able to muster now.

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2003

    I don't want Jessica Lynch in my foxhole

    I like to give everyone a chance to tell their side of the story. I allowed Jessica Lynch to tell hers. But I really didn't see anything that was worth reading in this book. Of course I feel comfortable telling you this since I have honorably served 6 years in the military. This book has proven to me that minorities like myself will never get the same treatment in the military or in American society for that matter. I left this book with the impression that Jessica Lynch was a substandard soldier. She was not able to fire a single round and her weapon jammed, probably because she lacked the discipline to properly maintain her rifle. But thanks to her light skin, the media was able to give her the title of a hero. Pretty much degrading the meaning of the word. According to her story, she did not perform anything worth noting as a heroic act. She didn't do anything more than her fellow soldiers, like Shoshana Johnson who was pretty much ignored due to the fact that her skin was a little too dark to be called a hero. I did learn something though. I learned that today's version of a hero has drastically changed from that version we had in World War 2, the greatest generation. They were real heroes and real soldiers.

    2 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2003

    what about those that are still there

    First off, one must have been in the military to gauge a military book. I can say I have been. Secondly, it does a little more justice that I am a woman. A woman who served 4 honorable years, had my heartaches, but always believed in the red white and blue. Somewhere Jessica forgot that no human, regardless of race creed sex or religion enlists in the service without a few truths. First, they love their country and want to serve her. Secondly, soldiers, sailors Airmen and Marines have DIED and will continue to die for freedom. Third, there are still over 3 thousand MIAs from a little war the public tried to sweep under the table called Vietnam. Some might have passed on, some might be brainwashed and still alive...but when they were asked for their unit's movements and allied secrets...they said nothing, except for the laws of conduct. I am a military fighting person, I serve in the armed forces that protect our country and our way of life, I AM PREPARED TO GIVE MY LIFE FOR THAT CAUSE. (sorry it's not exact but it's been awhile) TO say 'I didn't support the US in iraq' and a few other choice sentences let's me know, as the press has shown, that it was a poor girl who wanted to get free school to become a teacher. THAT IS NOT A STORY. There are still strong men and woman overseas following the code of conduct who will either re-enlist or come out and be shell shocked as to what the country thinks of a hero to be. America should not boycott Jessica, but the author and the publisher who decided the all mighty dollar was the most important issue they needed to face. In full, A ghost written memoir that I will give to the salvation army.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 31, 2010

    A Good Book

    I really like this book. I do wonder why when we have a true hero soemone somewhere has to bash the military. It is subbtle but it is there.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2006

    I really liked this one.

    This book is about Jessica Lynch.A soldier in the 507th Division that was ambushed in Nasiryah ,Iraq.This book is very suspenceful and it will leave you hanging on to your seat. As you get further in the book you will understand what she and her familywent through. Jessica Lynch was a Prisoner of war(POW)during Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2001. I think this book is excellant. It is very compelling.You will understand what life in Iraq was like during the war and Saddam's reighn of terror.You will also learn about the Fedahin terrorist and what they did.This book will tell you how sick these people were.This book really touched me.This book is dramatic, a little funny, and very suspenceful. I couldn't stop reading until I was through with the book. You should definatly read this book.I promise you will enjoy it. When you finish it you will feel a little bit taller.This book makes you think.It really opens your eyes and mind to reality.What they did to woman if they captured them disgusted me and definatly opened my eyes to what life was like in Iraq during the war,It will do the same to you as well.This is a five star book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2003

    Fabricated Premise Published by Knopf

    The premise that Lynch was raped and tortured has to be fabricated in this book when Lynch does not remember that night nor does she know what happened in the hospital facility. And doctors don't even back up the claim that she was raped that night. How can the publisher claim, and I quote: '[This] is the story this country has hungered for, as told by Lynch herself to Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rick Bragg. In it, she tells what really happened in the ambush; what really happened in the hospital; what really happened, from her perspective, on the night of the rescue.' The hunger is TO MAKE MONEY that will fill Bragg's pockets, as well as Knopf's purse--there is no doubt it's Lynch who's getting raped by sensationist journalism on the behalf of Bragg. Shame on you KNOPF and BRAGG for trying to exploit her experience and manipulate readers into something fabricated by a journalist who's already been sacked at the New York Times for concocting false premises. This reeks of get rich quick schemes that rides on the coat tails of patriotism.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 13, 2003

    Little Credibility

    It's amazing that anyone would write a book based on this story, except to make money. Jessica admits to absolutely no recall for the most important part of the story....anyone who goes into a war is a hero, but this story is weak.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2013

    Good book

    Ok book good read. Great story

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2004

    praise for Jessica's honest account

    My compliments for Jessica Lynch, whose story sounds very honest. It really takes bravery to tell such an unglamorous and unheroic tale, while pressures and temptations to become a propaganda-hero are all around. Keep it up that way, Jessica, and many thanks for your book!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2004

    A True American Girl

    The Jessica Lynch story is a very heartwarming story. Sad I suppose but great for this country. It would be a waste of time to people who all they do is sit around and watch the news allday because in their mind its nothing different from what they saw on tv. It is different though in less you have watched the movie the story is a lot more detailed then what you and I read in the tabloids or watch on tv. This young girl who is the age on some of your daughters gave her life for our country. She didn't know if she would come out alive, dead, or badly injured. But I have to say I think she did her part in this war. She had her friend die that is enough to see for a young girl. And those words that came out of her mouth 'I'm a soldier too' are the words of a pround american.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 18, 2003

    Definitely Not Your Average Biography!

    When I first picked up this book, I was a bit skeptical about it. About half of the biographies that I've read turn out to be like reading a textbook. Completely uninteresting with only a few good page-turning parts. This book fortunately is not one of those old 'textbooks'. The first page starts out in Iraq. Now, I'm not saying that Jessica's family life doesn't matter, but honestly, most people didn't purchase this book to read about her family and the history of where she grew up, they bought it to read about her experience as a POW. This book is very interesting and I learned alot about Iraq, the military of the United States and about Jessica's experiences. It was really one of those books that opened my eyes to the very different ways of the military. It's definitely worth your money!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2003

    No Facts - More Fiction Without Proof

    Contends are nothing new same as past TV news or newspaper articles. Lot of made up fiction without real facts. Not very interesting story just a country girl growing up in WV. There are many stories like this one out there...

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2003

    She's My Hero

    She didn't ask for any fame, but regardless of the circumstances Jessica Lynch is a message of hope and courage. Her family and friends all represent what is right with America.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2003

    AMERICA SOLDIER/ AMERICA SWEETHEART

    AMERICA'S HERO I'M A SOLDIER TOO. WAS THE WORDS, THAT CAME OUT OF HER MOUTH, THE LITTLE GIRL, WITH EYES OF HEAVENLY BLUE JUST A KID HERSELF, DOING A JOB OF A MAN, RISE UP AMERICA, AND GIVE THIS GIRL A HAND. HER BROKEN BONES WILL HEAL, BUT HER BROKEN HEART WILL REMAIN, HER BEST FRIEND DIED BY HER SIDE, IN HER HEART SHE WILL ALWAYS HAVE PAIN, SHE DIDNT CLAIM TO BE A HERO, BUT TO ME SHE WILL ALWAYS BE , SHE WAS DOING THE JOB OF A MAN, AND THAT'S A HERO TO ME. IT'S TIME TO LET HER LIVE HER LIFE, AND ENJOY HER WEDDING DAY, BUT DON'T FORGET TO SALUTE THE FLAG, AND REMEMBER JESSICA LYNCH ON VETERANS DAY. CLEO FLENER

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    A TRUE SOLDIER

    THIS IS A VERY HEART WARMING AUTOBIO OF A YOUNG SOLDIER WHO SERVED HER COUNTRY DURING IRAQI FREEDOM. 'IAM A SOLDIER TOO' IS A TRUE STORY OF INSPIRATION THAT SHOULD BE READ BY EVERYONE BECAUSE IT SHOWS HOW A YOUNG LADY OVERCAME THE WORST OF TIMES WITH THE HELP OF HER COURAGE AND FAITH.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2003

    stunning motivationer

    stunning abostultey stunning this book has furthered my dream and desire to start my future in the Military perfect for everyone just perfect

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2003

    What a great choice Jessica made in Rick Bragg

    Although I haven't read the book I'll go ahead and give it 5 stars. If it's anything like the other books he's written it'll be a best seller. My brother, who is never emotional, borrowed my book, All Over But The Shoutin' and when he returned it he said, 'It made me cry.' I understood completely. He could have been writing about my father, an old country boy from Alabama who drank, but wouldn't tell a lie if someone threatened his life. He was a gentleman in every way. I miss him and when I read anything Rick Bragg has to say about life in the South I feel like I can see my father again in the pages of his books. Jessica and her family sure made a great choice in writers to tell her story. She won't regret it.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2003

    great story about an american hero

    this is a great story of inspiration for the united states military. it proves that there can be miricles in war. read the book and see what you think

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 15, 2003

    Not since Coal Miners Daughter

    A great book, I enjoyed reading about her life growing up in her small town and her surroundings as she grew up. The trip through Iraq and the attack of her convoy were descriptive and very powerful.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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