CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The 10 years after her terrifying capture and dramatic rescue have been bittersweet for Jessica Lynch, but she's looking ahead to the future.
It's hard, because she carries the memory of the 11 soldiers who died in the ambush or as a result of it, including her best friend, Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, but sweet because of the memories she's created since then and the life she's carved out for herself despite it all.
Lynch, then a 19-year-old supply clerk in the 507th Maintenance Co., was riding with Piestewa, 23, and others in a convoy on March 23, 2003, when they were ambushed in Nasiriyah. It was three days into the Iraq War.
The two were taken to a hospital in the Iraqi city where Piestewa later died. Lynch's dramatic rescue by Army special forces from a hospital in Nasiriyah occurred more than a week later on April 1.
The petite Lynch was in Charleston earlier this month, delivering some several personal keepsakes to the state Culture Center, where an exhibit on her is planned for next month.
Lynch traveled to Arizona last week to be with Piestewa's family. The Hopi mother of two, who was the first Native American female service member to be killed in action, had been Lynch's closest friend and roommate when they were at Fort Bliss, Texas, home base to the 507th.
A memorial service was held for Piestewa on Saturday, and tributes were also made to other Arizonians killed in the Iraq War.
"It's an emotional time, especially when - I guess that survivor's guilt kicks in," Lynch said. "I feel guilty for coming home without Lori and that's one of the hardest parts about the recovery period. Just knowing that I got to come home and live my life and have a child - and she doesn't.
"It's a happy-sad occasion," she said of the 10th anniversary. "I'm mourning the loss of my friend and at the same time celebrating that we've made it past this 10-year mark that has been crazy. . . But at the same time we still need to think about the others that were killed that day."
Some details of the ambush were bungled, with some claiming Lynch fought valiantly by firing her M-16 at Iraqis who were trying to attack their group. Some accounts had her being shot and stabbed. But she testified before Congress a decade ago that it wasn't the case.
She describes the details of what happened that day in the book "I Am a Soldier, Too" an authorized biography written by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Bragg. But now, she says it's time to move on, and it appears she has.
In the history books
Lynch, 29, still lives in Wirt County, where she was raised. It's where she's raising her 6-year-old daughter, a voracious reader named Dakota.
"She's learning to read," Lynch said grinning. "She wants to read every book she can to me. I love it but she's not a baby anymore."
She achieved a longtime goal and earned a bachelors degree in education from West Virginia University at Parkersburg and spends her days substitute teaching at elementary schools in Wirt and Wood counties.
She continues to speak about her life and time in the Army at events around the country and now is working toward a master's degree in communications.
"It's exciting but draining because it's a lot of work," she said. "In the end, I'll look back and say 'OK, all those late nights studying and writing 20-page papers were definitely worth it.' "
She wanted something to fall back on in case teaching didn't work out for her, but so far, she loves her days with the children.
"I love substitute teaching," she said, beaming. "It's been fun. I love the little elementary kids.
"I wanted my master's to be in something different other than education so I had something else to fall back on."
The kids she teaches don't know her as former Prisoner of War Jessica Lynch. She's just their sometimes teacher. But middle school students learn about her in their history books, she said.
She laughed, saying it aloud again as if it were still hard to believe, "I'm in the history books."
Not a hero
In the 10 years since the ambush and rescue, she's mostly recovered from the physical trauma, suffering injuries to her back, arm and legs in the attack. She was greeted with fanfare and a parade upon her return to West Virginia months after her rescue.
She maintains now, as she has since her rescue, that she's not a hero, but she still receives gifts from people who feel otherwise. It's amazing to her that people still think about her and continue to show support.