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from: FORT ASHBY, W.Va
FORT ASHBY, W.Va. (May 8) - One came home to glory, honored with medals and a nation's warm embrace. One returned a symbol of the dark side - a growing scandal in a far-off war. Americans celebrated the return of former POW Jessica Lynch, left, (Getty). Army Spc. Lynndie England, accused in Iraqi prison abuse scandal, right, (AP) Ten months ago, Americans celebrated the return of former POW Jessica Lynch, who was feared dead, then rescued by U.S. special forces. This past week, the nation shuddered at photos of Army Reserve Pfc. Lynndie England smiling and gesturing at naked, hooded Iraqi prisoners - deeply troubling images that led to a presidential apology. Two 21-year-old women from tiny towns in the hills of West Virginia joined the Army, determined to see the world and follow their dreams. Lynch inspired the country, her name a synonym for the fortitude and courage of America's troops. England is facing charges under military law, the photos an indelible reminder of the ruthlessness war can breed. "It's just very ironic," says retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning, who tracks military issues for the Women's Research and Education Institute. "These two young women wanted some education and ... to serve their country and they got caught up in the larger world. Talk About It · Chat | Post Messages "They're the ones who were on the pointy edges when all hell broke loose - in two different ways." For many working-class kids in West Virginia, as in small towns across the country, the passage to a wider world and a new life often leads through the military. The road from Lynch's hometown of Palestine (population 300) to England's hometown of Fort Ashby (population 1,300) stretches across 210 miles in this largely rural state where jobs paying more than the minimum wage can be scarce. For both women, the military seemed a good fit. Short, slight and tough, each grew up tramping through the rolling Appalachian countryside. Each was comfortable in a world where guns and hunting were part of everyday life, though both were hesitant about actual killing. Each grew up in a tight-knit family, the middle of three children. Both enjoyed rough-and-tumble play with their brothers and sisters - though Lynch developed a reputation for prissiness, England for feistiness. Both saw serving their country as a stepping stone. Lynch, who entered the Army after high school, loves children and dreams of teaching kindergarten. England, who joined the Army Reserve after her junior year in high school against her parent's wishes, enjoys chasing storms and dreams of becoming a meteorologist. Their experiences in Iraq could not be more different. "They're the ones who were on the pointy edges when all hell broke loose - in two different ways." -Retired Navy Capt. Lory Manning Part of the U.S. march toward Baghdad in March 2003, Lynch's 507th Maintenance Company convoy was ambushed near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Eleven soldiers died. Lynch was taken prisoner and assaulted. She suffered spinal fractures, other broken bones and nerve damage and continues to struggle with her injuries, walking with a cane. Her dramatic rescue from a Nasiriyah hospital on April 1, 2003, captured worldwide headlines and transformed the soft-spoken woman into an instant hero and sought-after media celebrity. Later reports that the dangers of the hospital raid had been embellished did little to tarnish Lynch's luster. Over the last year, she has been the subject of a book, a TV movie and numerous interviews, hobnobbed with Hollywood celebrities such as Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio and spoken at motivational seminars. The world has learned much about the woman it first met in a grainy Pentagon video showing her rescue. But England remains a mystery - a grinning face in a sheaf of grotesque prison photos. Family and friends describe her as direct and strong-willed, capable of enormous generosity - she paid a close friend's car insurance - but willing to buck expectations and act impetuously. At age 19, she married a longtime friend. They divorced within two years. England went to Iraq in May 2003 as part of the 372nd Military Police Company, charged with guarding Iraqis at Abu Ghraib, a prison near Baghdad known for its torture chambers during Saddam Hussein's reign of terror. More on This Story · Female Soldier Charged in Iraqi Abuse · In Abuse, a Portrayal of Ill-Prepared, Overwhelmed G.I.'s · A Tragic Trajectory Ends at Abu Ghraib -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- · AOL Search: News From Iraq England's family says she was a "paper pusher" whose job was to process inmates, and they say she has become a scapegoat in the widening scandal. They say she didn't even work inside the prison itself but only went there to visit friends who worked in contact with inmates. But it is her presence at the prison in those shocking photos that has caused an international uproar. In one, England is smiling, a cigarette in her mouth, leaning forward and pointing to the genitals of a naked, hooded Iraqi man. In another, she holds a leash looped around the neck of a naked Iraqi man lying on his side on the cellblock floor, his face contorted. At a news conference Friday, her sister insisted that England was only following orders. "I don't believe my sister did what was in those photos," Jessica Klinestiver said. "Certain people told her what to do. I believe they were posed." Last week, her mother, Terrie England, told The (Baltimore) Sun that "everyone we know is being supportive because they know Lynndie and this is not Lynndie that they are showing." "Some people may think that I'm ashamed of her," she added in the interview. "I'm not ashamed of her. I'm proud of my daughter." England now faces military charges, including assaulting the detainees and conspiring with another soldier, Spc. Charles Graner, to mistreat prisoners. Family members say England is four months pregnant with Graner's child. Potential penalties for England could range from a reprimand to imprisonment and a punitive discharge, according to military officials. England's tour was set to end this month, but she has been reassigned to Fort Bragg, N.C. Relatives say she doesn't want to leave the base, fearing she'll be recognized. As the disturbing prison photos filled newspapers and television screens, another photo quietly disappeared. At her family's request, a picture of England was removed from a Mineral County courthouse display of local men and women serving overseas in the military. England family members say despite support from friends, their relations with co-workers and classmates have come under strain in the last week. And some people in Fort Ashby say they fear that their community will be unfairly tarred as backward. In contrast, Lynch's neighbors have held candlelight prayer vigils, rebuilt her family home to accommodate her wheelchair and hosted a huge homecoming parade. England family members say Lynch's heroics were blown out of proportion and only later did the truth emerge. The same thing will happen with England, says Roy Hardy, lawyer for the family. "Jessica Lynch went from superstardom to being a normal West Virginia girl," Hardy says. "Lynndie is being portrayed as a devil. It may take six or 12 months, but she'll come back to being a normal West Virginia girl."
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