New York – In a few weeks, Jessica Lynch will be trying hard to blend in as a freshman at West Virginia University. At 22, the former Army supply clerk, who became something of an icon after her dramatic rescue from an Iraqi hospital in 2003, hopes one day to be a kindergarten teacher. She spoke with TIME’s Wendy Cole about coping with the attention and pre-freshman jitters.
Looking back, Lynch says: “I think I provided a way to boost everybody’s confidence about the war. I was used as a symbol. They could show the war was going great because “we rescued this person.” It doesn’t bother me anymore. It used to. Through my book I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story, written by Rick Bragg and excerpted in the Nov. 17, 2003 issue of TIME, I have been able to set the record straight. I did what I could do and now let the record speak for itself.”
Lynch tells TIME she thinks about being ambushed in Iraq “every day.” She says, “There’s always something that reminds me of Lori Piestawa, a friend who was killed during the attack or one of my fellow comrades. Last night there were fireworks going off outside our hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. I have to literally see the fireworks. If I just hear them, they sound a little like gunshots or bombs—it kind of puts you back there.”
Asked if other veterans will resent the special treatment that the state of West Virginia will pay for her college tuition, she says: “I’m sure that’s happening. But I think I definitely paid the price. I don’t feel that I’m a hero or that I’ve done anything spectacular. I’m not trying to take advantage of the situation. These things are coming my way. If they were put in my shoes, they would be doing the same.”
On blending in at school when she’s so well known, she says: “It’s to the point at which I’m able to handle it better. It was hard getting stopped all the time when I wasn’t used to it. It doesn’t bother me now. But I don’t want any special attention drawn to me. I’ll try to blend in as much as I can. I have to say I am a little nervous—the freshmen that I’ll be with were eighth-graders when I graduated from high school.”
Asked about her physical therapy, she says: “I feel great, though my recovery is still going slow. If I put the effort in and work at it, I think I’ll be able to get rid of the canes forever. It’s a goal I think I can reach. I’m busy with traveling and getting ready for school, but I still usually get physical therapy for about an hour a day. The only accommodation I need is a shower chair.”
On how she handles invitations for appearances or speeches, she says: “It depends on my schedule. I’ve been invited to some pretty wild, crazy things. I can’t do everything. I would love to be there for everybody, but there’s only one of me. I’ll have to cut back when school starts.
Asked about her romantic life, she laughs nervously and says: “I try to stay away from talking about that.”
On the TV movie ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’: “I saw some of it. Not all of it was accurate, so I couldn’t keep watching it. I lived through it once, I don’t need to again. One day, yes, I would love to sit down and watch it.”
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