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Monday, October 27

Lynch's rescuer visits her hometown

By The (Huntington, W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch

PALESTINE, W.Va. - Scores of people in this tiny Wirt County town and neighboring Elizabeth turned out Monday to cheer and hug Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief - except Jessica Lynch, the person whose life he saved last spring in Nasiriyah, Iraq.

Al-Rahaief is the Iraqi attorney who alerted U.S. military authorities to the whereabouts of Lynch, a gravely injured Army supply clerk under guard in Saddam Hospital - at great risk to himself and his family from soldiers on both sides of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

About 25 people watched as al-Rehaief added a large arrangement of yellow mums in the garden planted in his honor in front of the Palestine post office by the Friends of Mohammed of Malden, W.Va., which sponsored his four-day visit to the Mountain State.

Later, after townsfolk gave him a tour of the area, he signed copies of his book, ``Because Each Life Is Precious,'' at the Dora Bee Memorial Library in Elizabeth, then told his story for students at the adjacent Wirt County High School in two afternoon assemblies.

Reporters were told that Lynch and her family were out of town, but a few phone calls established that Lynch's parents - Greg and Deadra Lynch - were home and that her sister, Brandi, had driven her to her daily two-hour physical therapy session in Mineral Wells. Her brother, Greg Jr., remains on active duty in the Army at Fort Campbell, Ky.

NBC ``Dateline'' producer John Armand told reporters that ABC's Diane Sawyer was at the Lynch home, working on her interview with Lynch that will air on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, the same day Lynch's book, ``I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story,'' will be released.

Aly Goodwin-Gregg, a daughter of Lynch attorney Stephen Goodwin of Charleston, said the former prisoner of war is grateful for al-Rehaief's help.

``She looks forward to a private meeting with him in the future,'' she said by telephone from the Lynch home.

Which is all right with al-Rehaief for now.

``I know she needs to take rest,'' he said. ``The important thing to me is that she is doing well.''

Al-Rehaief, who was showered with gifts all day, sent a vase of yellow roses to Lynch by Pam Nicolais, a third cousin, along with a couple of hugs for her.

``He's a very, very nice, well-spoken man,'' Nicolais said. ``I'm very thankful to him for the role he played in Jessi's rescue.''

During his visit, The Herald-Dispatch was able to show Al-Rahaief an advance copy of the NBC movie ``Saving Jessica Lynch,'' which will air from 9-11 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 9.

His assessment? He loved it.

``The movie is powerful,'' he said. ``When I watched it, it touched my heart. It made me think I was back in Iraq.''

NBC took a few liberties with the story, condensing here and revising there - including giving Susan Pari, the actress playing al-Rehaief's wife, some anti-American comments that al-Rehaief said his real-life wife didn't say. In fact, USDA Attorney Tom Kalil, the couple's friend and first American landlord, said he tried unsuccessfully to have the comments removed from the script.

But al-Rehaief was forgiving.

``I know about American movies,'' he said. ``They change things. But most important, they explained my point: Each life is precious. I want to thank everyone who worked on the movie.''