A POW's West Virginia Roots
Army Private First Class Jessica Lynch, 19, is set to return to the U.S. on April 12. Pfc. Lynch, a prisoner of war in Iraq, was rescued by U.S. forces on April 1, and has been treated for multiple injuries at a military hospital in Germany.
Last week, a tip from a sympathetic Iraqi led to Pfc. Lynch's dramatic rescue from a hospital along the Euphrates River in the central Iraq city of Nasiriyah. In the raid, soldiers also recovered the bodies of eight other soldiers who had been captured along with Lynch when their Army maintenance unit took a wrong turn and was ambushed by Iraqi forces.
Pfc. Lynch is from a small community called Palestine, in Wirt County, West Virginia. It's a farming area with few jobs to offer, and as NPR's Noah Adams reports, the region has a strong tradition of military service.
"In early April, you expect to see the delicate green colors -- a willow tree on a hillside, the first brightening of a meadow along the river -- but in Wirt County... it is yellow this week," Adams says. "Forsythia, dandelions, daffodils, and a thousand yellow ribbons and clusters of chiffon. And the signs: 'Jessie Found. Praise the Lord, Pray for the Remaining Troops."
In Wirt County, the attraction to military service is strong. Recruiters often stroll a shopping mall in the city of Parkersburg, 30 minutes away from Wirt County, looking for young people with "energy and presence." For many young people from the region, the Army can be a first step in a lucrative high-tech career that otherwise might be out of reach.
And the recruiters also mention the sign-on bonuses and donations to a college fund. The Army recruiting center is looking to fill its April quota of signing up four active-duty personnel.
Pfc. Lynch went into the Army just out of high school. Her older brother Greg is also serving in the Army -- and will soon be a member of the local Army recruiting team. Lynch's younger sister Brandi has already signed up to join the Army as part of the delayed enlistment program. "The military offers a job, health care and travel to young people, in a county where the unemployment rate is about 15 percent," Adams says.
In the Wirt County seat of Elizabeth, six miles up the road from Palestine, there are a few options to military service. There's a factory -- and even that is military work, too, in a sense. Mustang Survival Manufacturing employs 90 people, making air crew coveralls, dry suits to survive cold water and flotation vests for underwater demolition teams. The company's motto: "We Save Lives for a Living."
The company expects an increase in orders to replenish military supplies, and there are openings for 12 new full-time workers -- starting at $5.45 an hour.
"The people of Wirt County continue to gather in the evenings at the courthouse to honor the troops in Iraq," Adams says. "And they're making plans to welcome home one prisoner of a far-off war."
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