It was back in March 23, 2003, just three days after the start of the Iraq War, when Private First Class Jessica Lynch's unit was ambushed in Nasiriyah, Iraq. Lynch was only 19 when she was captured, badly injured and raped by Iraqi forces and held hostage for nine days before her dramatic rescue by US Rangers on April 1, 2003.
Controversy surrounds the "mythic" rescue story line. Lynch has blamed the Bush administration for exaggerating the bravery and success of the war with her story. "I knew that, even ten years later, I would not have been able to live with myself knowing that I let those stories escalate and I went along with what those other people were saying, because I knew in my heart that that's not really what happened," Lynch told ABC News' Bob Woodruff.
She has been on a 10-year recovery and continues to suffer after 21 surgeries. "Everything took a while to mend and to heal and I guess just mentally as well and physically," says Lynch. "Two straight years of full, consecutive physical therapy of trying to get my back and my legs working again. Trying to get to the point where I could stand up and walk because I was still in the wheelchair when I came home." Lynch still wears a brace on her left leg.
She is still reminded of that attack. "It's an everyday remembering. I mean I wake up, and I look at the injuries. Putting on the brace in the morning - you know all of that takes me back to that day. But I do. I wake up, I think to myself, "you know what, I'm so lucky and blessed to have gotten to come home and rescued and made it out of there alive," says Lynch.
Lynch is now a mom to 6-year-old Dakota and although she doesn't know everything that happened, Lynch says with time she will talk to her daughter about her experience. "She knows a little bit...she's gone to a couple of public appearances with me and she's heard me talk a little bit about the injuries and she knows that I have to wear the brace. I try to protect her as much as I can, until she's old enough to fully understand," says Lynch.
Lynch enrolled at the University of West Virginia at Parkersburg and received her Bachelor's degree in 2011. She always wanted to be a school teacher and she now substitute teaches. She's working on her Master's in communications and plans to one day get her doctorate degree. "I always like to set these small goals for myself, I like to have something to look forward to, and, I don't know - that's what gives me the drive and the ambition. I think after I graduate in the spring, I will look forward to maybe a doctorate program."
Here's her message for veterans:
"My message is just perseverance. I've looked at life and realized that no matter what life hands you, because you can't control that, just take it by storm and strive on and have that attitude that you don't want to give up, so persevere and strive on."
Jessica Lynch is a former POW honored with a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and POW medals. She was rescued by U.S. special forces on April 1, 2003, from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, where she was being held.