View Full Version : Helping rescue Private Lynch

07-07-03, 06:57 AM
Helping rescue Private Lynch

Second from the front on a convoy headed to rescue Pfc. Jessica Lynch from an Iraqi hospital, Lance Cpl. Jerry Kincaid couldn't help but notice how much air cover he had.

Eight or nine aircraft circled above Saddam Hospital like hawks, picking off threats to the mission. Kincaid and the other 11 members of the 3rd Platoon of the Fort Knox-based A Company, 8th Tank Battalion of the Marine Corps Reserve took their places in the convoy and raced toward the modern-looking building in the northeast corner of An Nasiriyah.

Just a few weeks out of tank school, Kincaid's job was to cover the Rangers and SEALs who would storm the hospital, whisk Lynch to freedom and recover the bodies of several of her platoon members. There were three tanks including Kincaid's M-1 Abrams, 15 or 20 Humvees, two five-ton personnel carriers, and various vehicles the SEALs were using.

"Nobody was gonna mess with us," said Kincaid, a 26-year-old country boy and third-generation tanker from Bradford, Ind., whose mother works in Elizabethtown. "We had so much air support it wasn't even funny. If you looked up at the sky it looked like the whole sky revolved around that hospital."

They wouldn't know until later that their mission would capture the nation's imagination and spark a debate about wartime propaganda. All Kincaid knew was he had a soldier to rescue. He was surprised how well the mission was going, considering the brutal resistance his men had encountered when entering the city just a few weeks before.

Just a week before, on the eve of their entrance into An Nasiriyah by Kincaid's company and the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, also known as Task Force Tarawa, Kincaid's platoon commander showed him a map of the city.

The March 23 mission: secure two bridges, one going into and one leading out of the southern Iraqi town. The various Iraqi military units inside would put up little to no resistance, the commander said. It was supposed to be simple.

It wasn't.

"We ended up getting in such a damn fight we ended up staying there almost a week and a half," Kincaid said.

Kincaid's convoy ran into Lynch' s company as it retreated from the city. The Republican Guard had carved through them like a saw, and they just wanted out. Kincaid thinks the Iraqi fighters got cocky after that victory and thought they could take the Marines in his unit, too.

Once the Marines were engaged, the fighting was intense. From his exposed position in the turret, Kincaid saw "everything you could possibly imagine." The Iraqi defenders were using the Americans' rules of engagement against them, attacking in civilian clothes and vehicles. They picked off nearly two-thirds of the task force's C Company on the first day of fighting.

It was so odd, Kincaid thought; the real civilians were just standing there in the street, watching the fighting as if it were an every day occurrence. The Marines had often wondered aloud why their mission was nessary after seeing the way the Iraqis lived, they knew.

"Iraq was, I don't know the best way to put it, your best idea of a Third World country," Kincaid said. "The people there are extremely poor. All the buildings they lived in are mud. Once we saw how they were living, it felt pretty good knowing we were helping them out."

The Marines beat back the An Nasiriyah resistance in two days, but victory came with a price. The C company survivors had to be divided among companies A and B.

This was a miserable time for Jerry Kincaid's mother Barbara Kincaid. Just when she thought she'd finally escaped the 24-hour war news coverage, somebody at work would turn on a TV or strike up a conversation about the latest developments.

"It gets on your nerves, it really does," Barbara Kincaid said. "I was on pins and needles every time the news said there was a marine missing."

At least she had the benefit of never having gone through it. The rest of his family knew what it was like. Kincaid's dad, brother and three of his uncles were all Marines. His grandfathers were World War II veterans of the Navy and the Army. His sister spent six years in the Army, too.

So the Marines were in Kincaid's blood. He would have joined when he turned 18 and probably would have joined active duty but his high school sweetheart talked him out of it. When she gave birth to Danielle soon after, the Marine dream was put on hold.

But they split up last year. And he was at a point in his high-paying sheet metal working job that he could finally take off for basic training. He'd just finished tank school in December when his commanders told him to grab everything; you're going to Iraq.

He deployed Jan. 15 on the USS Ashland and arrived in Kuwait a month later. They crossed into Iraq on March 19, entered An Nasiriyah on March 23.

Perhaps their most famous mission took place April 1. Kincaid was briefed that his third platoon would support Task Force Tarawa in a mission to free a female American soldier POW.

That soldier was Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a 19-year-old supply clerk with the Army's 507th Maintenance Company. She and 11 other soldiers were captured in a March 23 ambush near An Nasiriyah.

Initial accounts of Lynch's capture said she fought and killed several would-be captors until she ran out of ammo, suffering shot and stab wounds. Later accounts said this probably didn't happen; all her broken bones occurred when her vehicle overturned.

Her rescue has also been a point of debate.

The massive convoy's only resistance came from small-arms fire, Kincaid said. Air support took the shooters out before the convoy got a chance to.

The third platoon's three tanks each secured a corner of Saddam Hospital Kincaid's tank took the far left corner in the front. The SEALs and Rangers took the fourth corner.

The Rangers and SEALs rushed in, checking each room of the hospital's many floors. They whisked Lynch out early in the mission.

"They had her out within the first hour," Kincaid said. "She was the first priority, to get her out."

Kincaid and his platoon were the first Marines to participate in a POW rescue mission since World War II, he was told. The Rangers took another couple of hours to recover the bodies of those 507th Maintenance Company soldiers who didn't survive the March 23 ambush.

Lynch was immediately returned to the states. Kincaid would follow weeks later. The A Company came home with every hair of their high fades intact. They say the "Alpha Company Cloud" protects them it lost no men in the first Gulf War, either.

"We were blessed," Barbara Kincaid said.

Since returning to Fort Knox last week, Kincaid has caught up with friends and plans to live a normal life for a while. He'll probably stick around another 20 or 30 years after his original six-year commitment to the Reserves runs out. He thinks it'll take nothing short of another war for his tanker company to be called up again.

Kincaid said few people know for sure exactly what happened during the Lynch rescue. Accounts have been contradictory. Some people wonder if there was any resistance at all, since there is evidence Iraqi fighters had already fled. Doubters especially wonder if there was enough resistance to merit the massive convoy Kincaid described.

Sure, the convoy was excessive, Kincaid said. But after what he experienced in the An Nasiriyah firefight, he doesn't second-guess his mission's planners.

"I don't think there's too much firepower for anything in a war," he said.

Jacob Bennett can be reached at 769-1200, Ext. 428, or e-mail him at jbennett@mail.the-ne.com.