WILLIAMSTOWN -Dozens of area veterans gathered Wednesday at Williamstown High School as part of the school's annual Veterans Day celebration.
Nearly 50 veterans, with service hailing from World War II to recent service overseas, attended the hour-long ceremony. The event was part of the statewide Take a Veteran to School project.
This year's keynote speaker was Jessica Lynch, who was a private first class in the U.S. Army when she was captured in Iraq during the Iraqi War in March 2003 when her convoy was attacked.
Former POW Jessica Lynch speaks to students in Williamstown, WV.
Lynch is one of seven prisoners of war who have participated in West Virginia's Take a Vet program since 2008.
Lynch spoke candidly about her time in the military, from her fear and excitement when she shipped off to basic training only a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to the pain and hurdles she still faces from the injuries she sustained in Iraq.
"Perseverance is my life motto," she said.
Jessica Lynch was a guest speaker Wednesday at Williamstown High School’s annual Veterans Day ceremony.
Lynch spent nine days in Iraqi custody with severe injuries ranging from cracked ribs to a broken back to a severely crushed right foot. At one point, Lynch said, she fought with her captors to prevent doctors from amputating her leg.
Even after she was rescued, Lynch said the mental wounds made the physical wounds seem almost impossible to overcome.
"When I looked down at my broken body, it wasn't me. All I saw was a broken soldier," she said. "It took months for me to look into the mirror and accept it was me."
Take a Vet to School
* Area veterans took park in the annual Veterans Day celebration at Williamstown High School.
* The event was part of the statewide Take a Veteran to School project.
* This year's keynote speaker was Jessica Lynch, who was a private first class in the U.S. Army when she was captured in Iraq during the Iraqi War in March 2003 when her convoy was attacked.
But Lynch said when she began rehabilitation, she saw other soldiers with injuries more severe than her own who worked tirelessly to recover.
Those soldiers, she said, became her inspiration.
"They persevered," she said. "They kept that hospital alive."
Lynch said she still struggles with the aftermath of her injuries. She has undergone 20 surgeries and said more are likely. She still undergoes physical therapy. She wears a brace to help support her left leg and said her right foot remains heavily damaged, preventing her from ever wearing flip-flops or high heels.
"It sounds crazy, but it's those little things that I truly miss," she said.
Lynch said she is nearly finished getting her degree in education and looks forward to teaching in the classroom. Lynch also gave birth to a baby girl in 2007 and said she feels blessed in her life.
"I know that Iraq is in the past," she said. "That little girl is my future."
Lynch summed up what many of the area's veterans have said in the past.
"I am so thankful I'm alive," she said. "I'm thankful I was an American soldier."