Published January 13, 2015
The mission had no shortage of volunteers: staff the helicopter that on Tuesday finally brings Jessica Lynch (search) home.
The duty went to four members of the West Virginia Army National Guard's aviation support unit in Parkersburg, each proud to help in the return of the Mountain State's most famous soldier.
"Minus all the hype, this mission is about being able to participate in the homecoming of one of our own," said Chief Warrant Officer Robert McClure, who will co-pilot the Black Hawk helicopter (search) with Chief Warrant Officer Jim McPeak. "It's a real honor."
On Monday, Lynch was awarded the Bronze Star (search), Purple Heart (search) and Prisoner of War medals at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The Bronze Star is given for meritorious combat service, a Purple Heart is most often awarded to those wounded in combat, and the POW for being held captive during wartime.
"The Purple Heart ... was not necessarily about being wounded or injured in action initially, but that's what it has come to symbolize," said Lt. Gen. James B. Peake, the Army Surgeon General, in presenting the medals. "It's a special award and not one you choose to get."
Lynch, still recuperating from multiple broken bones and other injuries, and her parents are scheduled to fly from the medical center to Elizabeth. The 210-mile trip should last two to three hours, depending on the weather.
Also on both legs of the flight will be Lynch's cousin, Dan Little, a first sergeant in the Parkersburg National Guard unit.
"Jessi trusts him and wanted him to be with her because he's been through most of it with her," said Wyonema Lynch, Lynch's grandmother, noting that Little traveled to Germany when Lynch was recuperating there.
Little, who has spoken twice with Lynch in the past week, said her spirits have been buoyed by her imminent trip home.
"She's a strong, disciplined young lady," Little said. "Her injuries are long healing, and that can be hard if you dwell on it. But she's not allowed that to happen."
With hundreds of news media and others descending on this Wirt County seat of about 1,000 for Lynch's first public comments about her ordeal, area residents have been painting, pruning and preening for weeks.
"We are excited just to see her, just to be able to give her hug. To Jessi, home is in the hills. She has been wanting to get here," her grandmother said.
Regina Ray of Elizabeth said she is glad Lynch is coming home "because there is no place like home to recover."
American flags and yellow bows line the route Lynch's military motorcade will take from Elizabeth to her home in Palestine, a community of about 300 residents some five miles away.
Lynch is scheduled to make a brief statement in Elizabeth before riding in a Ford Mustang convertible in the motorcade.
Lynch's convoy was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah after it made a wrong turn. Eleven soldiers from the convoy were killed and Lynch, a supply clerk, was severely injured.
U.S. forces recovered Lynch at a Nasiriyah hospital April 1. Five other 507th Maintenance Company soldiers who were captured and held apart from Lynch were freed April 13.
The influx of hundreds of visitors, including many journalists here to report Lynch's first public words since her March wounding, capture and rescue in Iraq, is bringing needed cash to Wirt County, which has West Virginia's highest unemployment rate -- 15.1 percent.
The economic benefits dampen the annoyance many residents feel at the intense media interest in Lynch.
"They're anxious to see you come, and they'll be anxious to see you leave," said Keith Burdette, Gov. Bob Wise's legislative liaison and the county's former state senator.
Also on the flight will be the crew chief, Sgt. 1st Class Vernon Cosner of Washington, and flight medic, Sgt. Paula Tucker of Morgantown.