Family and Friends Talk About Missing W. Va. Soldier

Jessica Lynch is known by all who love her as the girl who always smiles, constantly giggles and loves children so much she wants to be a teacher.

"That smile is all you ever see," said Glenda Nelson, a close family friend from Marmet. "No matter what, she always had a smile on her face and loved kids to death."

The 19-year-old private first class is a supply clerk with the Army's 507th Maintenance Co., who is missing along with a dozen other soldiers after a supply convoy was ambushed in southern Iraq on Sunday.

Lynch, who dreamed of being an elementary teacher some day and saw the military as her way to get an education, signed up through the Army's delayed entry program before graduating from Wirt County High School in Elizabeth in 2001.

Greg Lynch, Jessica's father, was notified late Sunday night by an Army official accompanied by the West Virginia State Police who came to the family's two-story white house, perched atop a hill along a one-lane road.

Nelson and her husband Don drove from Marmet Monday morning to be with the family as they waited for updates about Jessica.

"That baby's over there and we have no idea what's going on," said Don, with tears in his eyes.

About a half dozen family members and close friends stood around a pickup truck outside the Lynch home Monday, waiting and watching each car come up the gravel driveway.

"We are just waiting for any kind of good news and hoping for the best," said Chris Joy, the Lynches' closest neighbor, who says Jessica knew no strangers.

"She just liked being with people, just enjoyed her friends," he said.

The Nelsons met the Lynches about five years ago when Don started hunting on Greg's property. Ever since, Glenda has traveled to Wirt County to spend time with Deadra, Jessica's mother, and the rest of the family, including Jessica's younger sister, 17-year-old Brandi.

"The Lynches are a great family," Don said. "They would do anything for anyone."

Before Jessica left for the military, Glenda and Don Nelson took her shopping in the state's capital of Charleston, a city she had never visited.

"I'll never forget when we got there, she was in awe of all the lights and said that it looked like little New York City," Glenda said. "I told her she needed to get out of Wirt County more, but I didn't mean to Iraq."

Gregory Lynch, whose oldest child and only son, Gregory Lynch Jr., is also in the military, was a big factor in Jessica signing up. Lynch is a member of the West Virginia National Guard stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C.

Lynch said Jessica would never let her brother outdo her at anything.

"She just re-signed up for four more years, just like her brother," Lynch said.

Jesse, as she was known to family and friends, wrote letters, e-mailed and called often.

Right before she left for Iraq, she called Don for his birthday. He knew who it was as soon as he answered the phone.

"She was giggling," he said, "and told me 'Happy Birthday, old man."'

Jessica and Don also discussed her leaving for Iraq. She was scheduled to go to Hawaii before the start of the war.

She said 'I've been trained and I'm ready to go."'

Lorene Cumbridge, a 62-year-old cousin who lives about 1/4 mile from the Lynches, said Jessica is "every mother's dream of a teenage daughter."

Glenda said that everyone is deeply affected by the news Jessica is missing but no one hurts like Jessica's mother, Deadra.

"We all hurt, but not like a mother hurts. I have no kids but I know how much my mother loves me," Glenda said.

"You've got Jesse," Joy chimed in.

"Yes, I've got Jesse -- she's my baby," Glenda said.

"She's everyone's baby," Don said. "She loved her country too and was ready to serve it. That is what my country wants, kids like her. She is a true hero in my eyes."