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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

THE RESCUE OF PRIVATE LYNCH

Aired April 12, 2003 - 20:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
ANNOUNCER: Private Jessica Lynch is home, facing a long road to recovery.

MAJ. MIKE YOUNG, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN: She is in pain, but she is in good spirits.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a very personal look at very brave young soldier.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were taught to never give up, do what you got to do.

ANNOUNCER: New details on what happened to Lynch's unit. The ambush, the capture, the dramatic nighttime rescue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We land, drop the ramp in the back and they're in. So once we get everybody in, get a thumbs up from the guy coming in the back, get a quick head count and we take off.

ANNOUNCER: And the courageous Iraqi who risked it all to save the youngest American POW.

Tonight, with Anderson Cooper, THE RESCUE OF PRIVATE LYNCH.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from CNN Center in Atlanta.

You probably know by now, U.S. Army Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch is home, back on American soil. Tonight, her return from war as heralded as her departure was unmarked. She left known only to her family, her friends and military comrades. There you see her returning a household name.

As we saw earlier today in Germany, cameras and reporters now follow every step of her still unfolding drama. To many, Private Lynch, her daring rescue, and her return have come to symbolize the qualities the U.S. Military holds highest: loyalty, endurance and daring.

She was wounded in action. Jessica Lynch now faces a long and challenging recovery. CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us with the tales tonight from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington where Jessica Lynch is at this hour -- Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we just received news that Private Lynch is being listed in satisfactory condition at Walter Reed. Her doctors have not said much to the press yet, but specialists in the field tell us that her recovery could take months.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN (voice-over): It's a long list, the list of injuries Jessica Lynch sustained while in captivity in Iraq. She has fractures in her right arm, foot and ankle, in both legs, and a fractured disc in her lumbar or lower spine, according to the military. And she also suffered head lacerations.

Lynch had several surgeries in Germany. Doctors put pins and bolts in her broken right arm and in both legs, and the repaired her fractured disc.

COL. DAVID RUBENSTEIN, LANDSTUHL REG. MED. CTR.: Her physicians, her doctors anticipate that Private Lynch will continue to improve with time, although she will require extensive rehabilitative services.

COHEN: And the rehab won't just be physical. Even though she's reportedly in good spirits and eating and sleeping well, psychologists say there is a mental process all POWs must go through with the help of counselors. It's called "decompression" in military lingo.

COL. BOB ROLAND, NATIONAL DEFENSE UNIVERSITY: Often times, there are jumbled memories. There are confusing things going on in their minds, and it is important to have them process that information and reintegrate it in a way that helps them to recover. And I suspect that Jessie is going through that process right now.

COHEN: Part of that process means staying away from the spotlight, at least for while. Psychologists say POWs need to make a slow transition back to the real world.

LT. COL. ELSPETH RITCHIE, DEFENSE DEPARTMENT: When they come from that environment, and they go to an environment that there are well wishers and stimuli and lights and sounds, that can just implode upon them. And they can actually become disoriented and confused.

COHEN: Where Jessica Lynch is in the decompression process is not known. What is known, however, is that Americans won't get to see much of their hero as she starts her road to recovery, a road that won't be easy. But Private Lynch has already proven she knows how to do things that aren't easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: When Private Lynch and the other wounded arrived here this evening at Walter Reed, they were greeted by well wishers, who greeted them with flags and gifts -- Anderson.

COOPER: ... return to watch. What is Private Lynch's timetable for getting on her feet again and walking?

COHEN: They have not yet given us a timetable, Anderson. But specialists in the field tell me that there are certain things they'll check out.

For example, can her legs bear any weight at all? They will see what kinds of stretching she needs to do, what kind of strengthening she needs to do for her muscles. They will also check and see if there was any neurological damage -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, a long road to recovery, no doubt. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Well Private Lynch, as Elizabeth just said, does have a long road, but exactly does that mean? What will it be like for her and for her family?

Our next guest knows what that process might be like. Reverend Cheryl Collins retired from the Army two years ago after 20 years of service. During the 1991 Gulf War, she served as an escort to POWs. And in that capacity, she helped them with their recovery, both psychologically and physiologically. Thanks very much for being with us.

REV. CHERYL COLLINS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Thank you.

COOPER: Reverend Collins, it is a recovery that is both physical and psychological, is it not?

COLLINS: Yes, it is both physical and psychological. However, what we did in the Army as a POW escort is that we tried to make that transition smooth for them. We tried to make them comfortable...

COOPER: And how would you do that? What would you do? I mean, how soon does an escort go and greet the POW?

COLLINS: Well, what we did was I was ordered by the -- Schwarzkopf to go and get POWs. We went to Amman, Jordan, got off the plane, greeted them, found out whether or not she was Melissa and he was David, talked to them, made them feel comfortable.

We didn't actually question them about anything, just let them talk at their own leisure.

COOPER: Melissa and David -- these are the two POWs you escorted back in 1991 in the first Gulf War.

COLLINS: That's right.

COOPER: Did you bring -- I mean, did you know stuff about them? Did you bring stuff to try to make them feel better?

COLLINS: Right. What we did was we knew that Melissa liked the teddy bears and she liked chocolates. And I think David had a favorite T-shirt, sweatshirt, or what have you. So we had, like, a care package for them as they got on the plane. COOPER: You said you didn't question them, but what was your observation of what they were going through?

COLLINS: Well, I think both of them were traumatized. Melissa was more susceptible to listening to what we had to say, and she wanted to talk. David didn't. And I think from the aspect of David was he was probably beaten and brutalized more than she was.

COOPER: We know so little about Private Lynch went through. So, obviously, everyone reacts in a different way. We will see how willing she is to come forward and talk, hopefully.

Reverend Collins, thanks for being with us.

COLLINS: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. Good to hear your experience.

Well, publicly, as I said, Private Lynch has not spoken about her ordeal, not spoken about how she became a POW. We know some things. We know Private Lynch and other members of the 507th Maintenance Company were near Nasiriya when Iraqi troops attacked them. Still not clear, how they ended up exactly where they did.

CNN's Ed Lavandera takes a look now at some competing scenarios.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The day before the ground assault launched into Iraq, soldiers from the 507th Maintenance Unit stood in these ranks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember that you're doing it for the United States of America and that is 100 times bigger anything that we could ever want.

LAVANDERA: The dash toward Baghdad was on. The quick move through the desert tested the strength of the supply lines, soldiers were left exhausted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between getting stuck in all that sand several times and getting pulled out and having to stop and police everybody up, it was a long, drawnout process.

LAVANDERA: 507 maintenance soldiers were counted on to keep the supply line moving. U.S. Representative Sylvester Reyes of El Paso has met with two soldiers wounded in the attack from the Fort Bliss maintenance soldiers.

REP. SYLVESTER REYES (D), TEXAS: We, unfortunately, found out the attack strategy of the Iraqis and that was to attack the supply line. A supply line that was very long, that was in its initial stages as we sped towards Baghdad.

LAVANDERA: In the early morning hours of March 23 outside Nasiriya, initial reports suggested the maintenance soldiers had made a wrong turn and drove into an Iraqi ambush.

GEN. HOWARD BROMBERG, U.S. ARMY: Took a turn and they realized there were sandbags (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the road ditches and heavy weapons began firing. And they returned fire, very valiantly, very brave soldiers, fought very well.

LAVANDERA: But some family members of the soldiers say they've heard that the 507th Maintenance Company did not make a wrong turn.

HECTOR PEREZ, RELATIVE OF 507TH SOLDIER: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stayed behind you know fixing up some other vehicle that you know with troubles so they stayed there.

REYES: They were trying to catch up to the main convoy, to the big convoy when they were ambushed.

LAVANDERA: Whether or not they were left behind is not yet clear. U.S. military officials have said that, quote, "an irregular Iraqi force attacked the soldiers on a bridge." But some say that a irregular label doesn't give the Iraqi force enough credit.

REYES: If they were irregulars they fought very fiercely. They were well coordinated. From what the sergeants tell me the ambush was well executed.

LAVANDERA: The Iraqi force fought off a U.S. Marine unit that rescued several wounded soldiers and two dead soldiers. But the Iraqis captured 15 troops from the 507th Maintenance Company, nine of those soldiers were killed, one has been rescued and there are five still listed as prisoners of war.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from the United States.

LAVANDERA (on camera): The Pentagon won't comment about what happened to the 507th Maintenance Unit until the prisoners of war have been rescued or accounted for. In the meantime, military officials and some congressional leaders continue to investigate.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Fort Bliss, Texas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Coming up, the daring rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, as you have not heard it before.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city was lit up like a Christmas tree. There was a diversionary attack on the city and there were doing their job. There were tracers arcing through the air, artillery round impacting fires everywhere. It was quite a show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Quite a show, lit up like a Christmas tree, he said. Next, one of the helicopter pilots from the rescue mission tells us what happened.

And later, the young woman whose story has captured the world's attention. The real Jessica Lynch, as our special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... Jessica Lynch and several of her colleagues were missing. Some of them turned up on Iraqi TV as POWs, but not Jessica. Was she alive? Was she a prisoner? And if so, where? Then a breakthrough.

CAPT. FRANK THORP, CENTCOM SPOKESMAN: We had very good intelligence that Private 1st Class Lynch was being held as a prisoner in the Saddam Hospital there in an Nasiriya.

BURKHARDT: Intelligence, that's what it's called by the military. Jessica Lynch and family might call it an angel from heaven. An Iraqi man named Mohammed, who had trekked six miles through the desert to tell the Marines what he knew.

He had seen Jessica, he said, while visiting his wife, a nurse, at the Saddam Hospital in Nasiriya. And had seen guards slapping Jessica, already suffering from multiple injuries. Over the next two days, Mohammed made more trips back to the hospital, drawing maps by hand to guide the rescuers.

Then on the night of April 1, shortly before midnight, the go ahead. Phase one, a diversionary attack by detachment of Marines to draw attention away from the hospital.

Then the main assault. Army Rangers set up a perimeter around the hospital. Helicopters then flew in and delivered the Special Operations team. For a moment, it looked as it the who intricate plan would fall apart when one of the choppers hit a cable support for a nearby radio tower and nearly crashed.

Once on the ground, the rescue team moved inside the hospital. Others remained outside to provide cover. With the help of a doctor inside, the team found Jessica's room. A soldier called out her name. No answer. Instead, she slowly peeked out from behind her sheets. The soldier then said, "We're United States soldiers, and we are here to protect you and take you home."

Finally, words from Jessica, "I'm an American soldier, too."

Seeing that she was in pain, they quickly strapped her to a stretcher, hustled her downstairs and out to the waiting helicopter. As they lifted away, she grabbed a hand of an Army doctor and then a few more words from Jessica, "Don't let anybody leave me."

Bruce Burkhardt, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, the last we heard, the Iraqi man who helped Jessica was under the protection of the U.S. Marines near Nasiriya along with his family.

Now, another inside look at Lynch's rescue, this time in the words of one of the heroes themselves, one of her rescuers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SGT. PAUL, U.S. MARINE CORPS: ... wires, we had high tension wires on the way to the zone. The plane jerked hard right, the pilots recovered and we kept going. Made our landing. Rangers were out. Did a quick check to make sure the plane was intact, took off and finished the mission.

CAPT. KELVIN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: We were waiting on the extract call, and it came across that she had been found and all the other personnel had been found also.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, retired Army Brigadier David Grange knows there are challenges involved in rescuing prisoners of war. He's participated in POW rescues, both as Special Forces soldier and as a commander. He joins me now from Madison, Wisconsin.

General Grange, intelligence is really the key to these rescues?

BRIG. GEN. DAVID GRANGE, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: It's the bottom line. The few operations I have been involved with, they were either aborted because of erroneous information or other factors, or we did not have enough intelligence to properly execute the mission. It's the, as they say in the military, the long pole in a tent. That's the key part.

COOPER: And this -- we are told this was a combined Special Forces operation. You had Marines, you had Army, you had even Air Force involved. Why the combined units?

GRANGE: They're almost always joint. In other words, of different services like you just mentioned. You had the SEALs which was the surgical element. Those are the people that go to the point of hostage location. You had the Rangers which are the close in security force and cordon the area, you might call it an inner circle. And then the Marines, who are more of an outer circle, as well as a diversionary attack.

So, it was layered all the way in to the point of rescue. And, in this case, the Navy SEALs was the hostage rescue force and was probably available. The Rangers always work with rescue forces. And the Marines -- it was their area of operations. They had the helicopters, they knew the AO, the area of operations that they were going to operate in. So, they just put it together like that.

COOPER: General Grange, lest we forget in our happiness over Private 1st Class Lynch's return, there are still seven Americans listed as POWs who are out there. Where they are is not known. What do you think right now is being done to try to find them?

GRANGE: Everything you can possibly imagine. One of the key things when Jessica was rescued and brought back and when she was able -- there are three basic things that she would go through.

One is immediate medical attention, of course. Physical medical attention, as well as psychological attention. And then, of course, is some intelligence people that are trying to get information from her as best as she could provide it under those circumstances that she is experiencing. Hopefully, to help find or get leads to rescue the other prisoners of war.

So, all three of those things happen as soon as possible. They're still happening. And every effort you can imagine is being put forth in this.

I would say, Anderson, that the recovery of these POWs is a higher priority than confirming whether Saddam is dead or alive.

COOPER: You said every effort. Because this is not just a professional obligation, this is personal.

GRANGE: It's personal, and it's, you know, the old motto "we never leave a fallen comrade." It's the government's, the military's obligation to every service member and every service member's buddy and family. And so, many resources are being put against this thing. It is a difficult mission, though. It's very hard to get the information you need to do a successful recovery operation.

COOPER: Only got about 30 seconds left. The operations you have been involved with, some of which ended up not happening, but take us a little bit -- what is it like in those planning rooms. I mean, what goes through you? Is it fear? Is it adrenaline? Just personally, what is it like to be involved in these operations?

GRANGE: All these things. It's just a -- one, it's the highest order of a mission that you could be responsible for. It's -- because you may lose many to save one, but no one hesitates. Everybody understands that commitment, it's required, it's what gives the soldiers and Marines on the battlefield the courage, knowing that someone's going to do something about your predicament. It's very powerful.

And then the other is, if it's successful, the elation, the -- just the emotions to the force permeate throughout the entire -- everybody, in this case, in Iraq. I'm sure every military personnel.

If it fails, people just weep. Just the emotional drain is just devastating because it's so important to everybody.

COOPER: All right. Brigadier General David Grange. Appreciate it. Thanks.

GRANGE: My pleasure. COOPER: Next, Private Lynch's sources of strength and support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Where did she find all this courage that she needed to get through this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right through the blood and the genes. It's just who we are.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Through the genes. Private Lynch's hometown, family and upbringing when our special report continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome home, Jessie.

We have talked about her return, her rescue. What about Jessica Lynch herself, the person? She is certainly not very big, not very physically intimidating, but just look at her courage.

CNN's David Mattingly on a simple country girl who has become a hero to the nation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Slight of frame and not much over 5 feet tall, they only thing big about Private 1st Class Jessica Lynch was her smile. but news of her ordeal as a POW and her dramatic rescue brought on a wave of shock and awe. How was she able to endure?

People who know her best say you can find the answer right here among the jagged hills of western West Virginia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a nice place to come back to. When you have a home like this, you've got a will to survive.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Think she was thinking about that while she was in the Iraqi hospital?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Coming back to her family. Every day, I'm sure.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): For us to reach the Lynch family home we had to drive deep into the rugged landscape, down a winding one-lane road to a humble two bedroom house where a little curly-haired blond named Jessie grew up surrounded by a proud and loving family.

(on camera): Where did she find all this courage that she heeded to get this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Brought through the blood and the genes. It's just who we are. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were taught to never give up. That's the way we was brought up. You never give up. You do what you got to do.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Inside the Lynch home at a crowded kitchen table, cousins and friend goes through hundreds of pieces of daily mail, all by strangers moved by Jessica's ordeal. One gesture is particularly touching, a Korean War veteran sending Jessica his combat infantry badge.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "And I would be honored if you see that she gets that."

MATTINGLY: It's a remarkable moment considering the Army seemed an unlikely destination for Jessica. She was by all accounts a shy country girl. A petite, but competitive athlete. An average student, more beauty queen than soldier.

(on camera): But like so many young people, Jessica Lynch found that growing up in Wirt County, West Virginia brings limited career option. Unemployment recently hit 15 percent here. And when to comes to good paying jobs all roads lead out of the county.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that face.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's not to love there?

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Just weeks before her capture Jessica sent her former kindergarten teacher, Linda Davies (ph), a letter. Thrilled with the travel from Army life she wrote, "I can say I've been to places half of Wirt County will never see." But then, there was a surprise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At the end she said, "One day, I'll be a teacher standing in your spot, OK?"

MATTINGLY: The Army it seems, was a means to reaching a dream, teaching in her old school. A career she could pursue without ever again having to leave her beloved home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was a girl that went after the goals that she had set for herself and she's gone above and beyond as far as I'm concerned.

MATTINGLY: And in a place where everybody knows everybody, Jessica's pending return has the entire community bursting with pride. All of it waiting with the tremendous show of affection that will likely embarrass a shy country girl, but continue to give strength to this now celebrated soldier.

David Mattingly, CNN, Wirt County, West Virginia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, one final note. Jessica Lynch's story is an inspiration to many, and if you listen closely, you just might be able to hear Hollywood agents working the phones trying to buy the rights to it. Her brief life, her quick capture, and rescue will be the stuff of TV movies for some time to come, no doubt. In fact, NBC Entertainment has announced it is going to make a TV movie with or without her family selling her story. I guess it's true what they say in Hollywood: the show must go on.

Larry King is next. I'll be back at 10:00 on "NEWSNIGHT." Hope you stay tuned.

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