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11 bodies returned in rescue of POW

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

Two of the missing soldiers from the 507th are from the Cleveland area.
CAMP AS SALIYAH, Qatar (AP) -- Eleven bodies -- at least some of them believed to be Americans -- were found when prisoner of war Pfc. Jessica Lynch was rescued in a U.S. commando raid on an Iraqi hospital, a military spokesman said today.
Lynch, a 19-year-old Army supply clerk, was captured March 23 by the Iraqis after her maintenance unit made a wrong turn and was ambushed in the Euphrates River city of Nasiriyah.
As many as 12 other members of her unit were feared captured; five of them are officially listed as POWs.
Acting on an intelligence tip about Lynch's whereabouts, U.S. special operations forces slipped behind enemy lines and seized Lynch from the hospital under cover of darkness Tuesday.
Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, said that during the rescue operation, 11 bodies were recovered in and around the hospital.
"We have reason to believe some of them were Americans," Thorp said.
He said the military has not confirmed whether they were members of Lynch's unit, the 507th Maintenance Company.
"We don't yet know the identity of those people," Thorp said. "And forensics will determine that."
Until Tuesday, Lynch had been listed as missing in action, and her family did not know whether she was dead or alive.
Thorp said Lynch was being treated for her injuries at an American military facility today. He said he had no details on her condition or the nature of her injuries.
Thorp would not confirm reports that troops used a battlefield diversion to slip into the hospital.
What happened
The 507th was attacked during some of the earliest fighting in Nasiriyah, where Fedayeen loyalists and other hard-core Iraqi fighters are said to have dressed as civilians and ambushed Americans.
Not long after the ambush, five of Lynch's comrades showed up in a video shown on Iraqi television being questioned by their captors.
The video also showed bodies, apparently of U.S. soldiers, which led Pentagon officials to accuse Iraq of executing some of its POWs. Officials believe the video was made in the Nasiriyah area.
Lynch, who aspires to be a teacher, is from Palestine, W.Va. She joined the Army to get an education, her family said.
She left a farming community with an unemployment rate of 15 percent, one of the highest levels in West Virginia.
She was following in the footsteps of her older brother, Gregory, a National Guardsman based at Fort Bragg, N.C. Jessica Lynch enlisted through the Army's delayed-entry program before graduating from high school.
Lynch's family was told of the rescue about 6 p.m. Tuesday.
"I thought at first it was an April Fools' joke," said her father, Greg Lynch Sr. "I thought this was a cruel joke. I can put up with most things, but not that. They assured me, 'No, it's not a joke.'"
As the news spread across one of West Virginia's smallest counties, more than 70 friends and relatives gathered at Greg and Deadra Lynch's two-story, wooden-frame house in the farming community of Palestine to show their support and share in the celebration for their daughter.
"You would not believe the joys, cries, bawling, hugging, screaming, carrying on," said Pam Nicolais, Lynch's cousin. "You just have to be here."
Lynch's mother told WCHS-TV, "I'm so excited. I'm speechless. Prayer I knew couldn't go wrong."
"It just shows that miracles can happen," said Gov. Bob Wise, who promised "one of the greatest homecomings this state has ever seen."
Other families
Relatives of several other missing and captured members of the 507th said Tuesday night they had received no news, but some said Lynch's rescue renewed their optimism.
Two of those missing 507th soldiers are Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland, and Pvt. Brandon Sloan, 19, of the Cleveland suburb Bedford Heights.
Jack Dowdy, father of Sgt. Dowdy, was glued to television reports Tuesday night about Lynch, but had received no word about his son.
"It gives me hope," he said. "I'm just sitting here hoping if they find one, maybe they will find some more."
Lynch's rescue relieved Palestine, about 70 miles north of Charleston, and the entire state.
"God watched over Jessica and her family. All West Virginians are rejoicing," said Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. "This is a testament to the amazing skill and courage of our military."
Lynch is known for her smile and her laugh. Friends and family call her Jessi. She's "every mother's dream of a teenage daughter," said Lorene Cumbridge, another cousin.
"She's just a West Virginia country girl. Warmhearted. Outgoing," said Cumbridge, 62.