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Ex-POW Jessica Lynch still has nightmares of Iraqi captors years after rescue

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By Meg Wagner, NYDailyNews.com – Reprint of 2015 article.

Ex-prisoner of war Jessica Lynch still has nightmares about the Iraqi men who took her hostage a dozen years ago.

As the 12th anniversary of her capture approached earlier this year, Lynch said she “broke down” — prompting her to seek mental health care for the first time since her 2003 rescue.

“People expect me to be doing OK. They expect that I should be perfectly fine now,” she said in a CNN interview, released just days after presidential hopeful Donald Trump criticized ex-POW John McCain for “being captured.”

Lynch was captured in March 2003 when Iraqi insurgents ambushed her Army supply convoy. The then-19-year-old soldier’s legs were crushed and her back was broken before she was taken to an Iraqi hospital as a prisoner. Eleven other soldiers, including Lynch’s best friend Lori Piestewa, were killed in the attack.

She was rescued on April 1, 2003, nine days after her capture. The mission was broadcast around the world, and Lynch returned to the U.S. as a war hero.

After coming home, Lynch earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in communication in order to become a teacher. She met her now-fiancé in 2005 and they had a daughter, Dakota, in 2007.

Lynch was captured in Iraq in March 2003.

Lynch was captured in Iraq in March 2003. (HO/REUTERS)

“I met the man of my dreams, and I wanted this family. I wanted this life. I didn’t want to be a just a broken soldier with nothing,” she said.

 Since the 2003 attack, Lynch has undergone 22 surgeries to repair the damage to her legs and still has more to go. The next will likely be a knee replacement, she said.

But while she was highly focused on her physical recovery — she still pushes herself at regular physical therapy — she ignored her mental health, she said.

“I put up this wall, this barrier, it was my way of dealing with things,” she said. “In the beginning, I was able to block everybody out, whereas now it’s getting harder … to deal with.”

The post-traumatic stress — the recurring dreams, the terror, the insomnia — became too much to bear this year, she said. She has had the same dream every night in which her Iraqi captors are chasing her in the woods, and she can only fall asleep after checking and rechecking that the doors are locked.

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Lori Piestewa (r.), Lynch’s best friend, was killed in the attack on the supply convoy. (AP)

“I need to check,” she said. “I do that 200 times a night before I lay down and go to bed.”

She “shut down” just before the 12th anniversary of her capture, she said. Getting out of bed became difficult.

“I could see myself shutting everyone out. Don’t call me, text me, don’t message me, just completely leave me alone,” she told CNN.

Finally, she began seeing a therapist.

While she has made progress in therapy, she still struggles with the loss of her best friend, she said.

Lynch's rescue in April 2003 was broadcast around the world.

Lynch’s rescue in April 2003 was broadcast around the world. (HO/REUTERS)

“I still don’t understand. Why did they kill her and not me? Why am I here, and not her?” she said. “If I was to go back in time, I would want to switch places with her.”

The new interview with the famous ex-POW comes just days after Republican presidential candidate Trump claimed that McCain “was not a war hero.”

“He’s a war hero because he was captured,” Trump then clarified while speaking at the Family Leadership Summit in Arizona Saturday. “I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s fellow Republicans quickly condemned him for the comments on McCain, who spent more than five years being tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and suffered permanent injuries as a result.

Trump said he didn’t serve in Vietnam because he was “going to college,” and because he “was not a big fan of the Vietnam War.”

By Meg Wagner, NYDailyNews.com – Reprint of 2015 article.