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Saturday, April 26

Rescued POW's hometown still in media spotlight

By Bob Withers | The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch

PALESTINE, W.Va. - Life never will be the same in this tiny Wirt County town.

That's because Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the former prisoner of war who celebrated her 20th birthday Saturday, lives here.

After her rescue April 1 from an Iraqi hospital, the national media descended on Palestine, pointing cameras in the townsfolk's faces, overcrowding the single-lane road where the Lynches live, and wondering why their cell phones weren't working.

In the process, some new media stars were born.

``For the first two weeks after she was found, I got at least 300 phone calls, and they (the Lynch family) probably got 3,000,'' says cousin-by-marriage Ramona Lynch. ``I did at least 50 live radio interviews.''

Ramona Lynch figures she gained such popularity because she's the first Lynch to have a 275- telephone number in the book.

``They probably called the operator and told them they wanted the first Lynch they came to,'' she says. ``And that was me.''

She says she has fielded calls from Canada, England, Ireland, Japan and Australia.

Then on Palm Sunday, she stopped in nearby Elizabeth to get gas on her way to church in Newark.

``A woman came up to me and said, `Have you got a minute?''' she says. ``I said, `About that; I'm on my way to church.'''

They started talking, and Lynch noticed a man aiming a camera at her.

``I thought he was taking my picture,'' she says.

When she got home, a friend called her from Elizabeth and said, ``Guess who I saw on TV this morning?''

It was Ramona Lynch. The woman and the cameraman were a crew from MSNBC. The spotlight has chilled for awhile, but it will be back - when Jessica Lynch comes home from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

``Everyone is painting, making a lot of repairs and getting everything spiffed up,'' Lynch says. ``There's going to be a lot of people coming in here.''

``They've gotten tons of offers - book deals, movie deals, talk shows,'' Pam Nicolais, a cousin, says of Greg and Deadra Lynch, the soldier's parents. ``They've just been overwhelmed. They are basically very shy people.''

There seems to be a new spirit of thankfulness and an appreciation for spiritual things, too.

Ramona Lynch says the whole experience has strengthened her faith.

``I was praying for Jessi's return, but I had given up,'' she says. ``This has taught me to trust the Lord more. It has increased my faith tenfold. I don't think I really understood the power of prayer before.''

Ron Pettry, who put up a sign on his barn giving thanks, says Jessica Lynch's rescue has increased everyone's faith.

``That's what we live on around here, anyway,'' he says. ``Without faith, nothing works. (Her rescue) brought true all the things we believed in to start with.''