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The Story of Jessica Lynch

What really happened in Nasiriyah.

12:00 AM, Apr 24, 2007 • By RICHARD S. LOWRY
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TODAY, THE HOUSE Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by Henry Waxman (D-CA) conducted a hearing into "misleading military statements" that followed the death of Pat Tillman and the ordeal of Jessica Lynch. I cannot speak of the Pat Tillman incident, but I can speak to the story of Jessica Lynch.

I spent more than two years of my life studying the battle of An Nasiriyah. I read thousands of pages of government reports and personally interviewed nearly one-hundred of the participants of the battle, including four survivors of the 507th Maintenance Company's ambush, several Marines who came upon the scene of the ambush, a young Marine who worked in the regimental intelligence shop and was responsible for the safekeeping of Jessica's personal effects, and several of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who were actually involved in her rescue. The results of my research were published last year in Marines in the Garden of Eden.

Following her rescue, unsubstantiated reports abounded, the media made a variety of assertions: Jessica Lynch was a pretty teenage girl who had been subjected to the ravages of an unjust war. She had been sent into battle with inadequate equipment and protection. After taking a wrong turn, Iraqis feigning surrender had ambushed her unit. Yet, she bravely fought off the enemy until she could resist no longer. Because of the incompetence of the leadership in Washington, D.C., she had been taken prisoner by evil Iraqis who did unspeakable things to her.

This was the type of story that had "legs." Every news producer in America salivated when they read the first copy. They knew that their ratings would skyrocket when the story of this fragile American girl was told. This was the type of story that would go down in history. There was only one problem--most of the story wasn't true.

The 507th Maintenance Company didn't simply make a wrong turn. Iraqis did not feign surrender. Lynch's unit had machine guns, rocket and grenade launchers and, while their M-16s were old, the reason most failed was that they were improperly maintained.

America's news media did not seem to care. They repeatedly ran every story they could about America's new princess-prisoner. At the same time, the U.S. military was trying to play down the story. They knew Jessica was being held captive and they immediately started plans for her rescue. Many Iraqis had come to Marines and embedded reporters to tell of a female soldier being held captive in a Nasiriyah hospital. Kerry Sanders of NBC was asked to not speak of Jessica's captivity. The commanders in the field feared that if word leaked of her captivity, she would be moved, or worse, before they could get to her.

Here is what really happened in Nasiriyah:

At midnight on March 22/23, the 1st Battalion of the 2nd Marine Regiment was preparing to move into Nasiriyah to secure the bridges over the Euphrates River and the Saddam Canal. They had stopped for a short rest only hours earlier at the intersection of Highway 1 (a major Iraqi highway) and a small two-lane road. This Cloverleaf was a modern freeway intersection with on and off ramps to/from the six-lane highway.

South of Nasiriyah, the U.S. Army was using Highway 1 as its ONLY supply route through Southern Iraq. Several Marines described the Highway as looking like I-95 on a Friday evening. The thoroughfare was jammed with thousands of supply vehicles. To the Marines' amazement, the Army vehicles all had their headlights on. In the Iraqi night, a stream of American vehicles could be seen off to the horizon.

The 507th Maintenance Company commander had accurate maps, a computer disk with his orders and more maps, and a handheld GPS device. He could plainly see the convoy on Highway 1. The 507th Maintenance Company was behind schedule and, by the time they reached the Cloverleaf, the Marines were moving up the two-lane road to assume their attack positions. The Marines were hoping for capitulation but expecting a fight.

Lynch's company commander led his vehicles through the intersection and raced past the heavily-armed Marine mechanized infantry battalion. He led his company up the deserted road, over a railroad bridge, which was defended by a company of dug-in Iraqi tanks, through an Iraqi military checkpoint, over the Euphrates River Bridge, through a four-kilometer stretch of the inner city of An Nasiriyah, over the Saddam Canal Bridge, through the northern outskirts of the city, past an abandoned military headquarters, and then past the operational military headquarters. Finally, he decided to turn around.