As the first U.S. commando came through the door of the hospital room in Nasiriyah, he called Pfc. Jessica Lynch's name.
There was no answer. She had buried her head beneath the bedsheets, apparently frightened by the sounds of gunfire and unfamiliar voices around her. She drew the sheet back but remained mute.
The commando called her name again: "Jessica Lynch, we're the United States soldiers and we're here to protect you and take you home." She was beginning to understand.
The commando took off his helmet and walked to the bed, where the 19-year-old army supply clerk lay wounded and in pain. Lynch looked up at him and said, "I'm an American soldier, too."
This dialogue was recounted today by Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor E. Renuart Jr. as he provided the military's first detailed account of the Special Operations mission that spirited Lynch out of hospital where she was being held prisoner by the Iraqis.
The U.S. military has called Lynch's rescue one of the proudest moments of the campaign in Iraq. But it held off providing this rare account of actions by some of the military's most secretive soldiers for four days, until forensic experts had identified nine bodies recovered during the raid as missing U.S. service members, and after their families had been notified.
Renuart, the Central Command's director of operations, said Special Operations learned that an injured soldier was being held at Saddam Hospital several days after Lynch's 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company was ambushed by Iraqi fighters near Nasiriyah.
The intelligence came from local contacts, he said. Separately, an Iraqi lawyer whose wife was a nurse at the hospital has said he tipped U.S. troops to Lynch's whereabouts after he saw her being mistreated by her Iraqi captors.
"After some detailed planning and study," Renuart recounted, "it was felt that we not only had good intelligence information and had good access and had the potential for good access, but we in fact also felt that we had a feasible plan."
They assembled a team of Army Rangers and aviators, Navy SEALs, Marines, and Air Force pilots and combat controllers.
"The team was designed in a way to very rapidly get into the area of the hospital, to determine the location of Private Lynch and then to bring her out, and at the same time exploit some areas of the hospital where we had reports of enemy headquarters, command-and-control facilities and the like," Renuart said.
Before midnight Tuesday, they put the plan in motion. Marine Task Force Charlie launched a diversionary attack elsewhere in Nasiriyah to draw Iraqi militiamen into a fight some distance from the hospital. Other Marines ferried the commandos by helicopter and vehicles to the hospital complex, U.S. military officials said, as Iraqi fighters fired from surrounding buildings.
When the Americans entered the building, they persuaded a doctor to take them upstairs to Lynch's room. There, they found the scared and badly injured soldier. She "seemed to be in a fair amount of pain," Renuart said.
An Army Ranger doctor examined her and prepared her for evacuation. The commandos strapped her to a stretcher. Then they whisked her down the stairwell, out the door and into a waiting helicopter.
Lynch reached up and grabbed the hand of the army doctor.
"Please don't let anybody leave me," she beseeched him.
For the entire trip, as the helicopter shuttled her to a military airplane, which in turn would take her to a field hospital, she kept hold of the doctor's hand. "It was clear," Renuart said, "she knew where she was and she didn't want to be left anywhere in the hands of the enemy."
Lynch is now receiving medical care at the U.S. military's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. Doctors have found fractures in her right arm, both legs and her right ankle and foot, as well as injuries to her head and spine. She has undergone a back operation and surgery to repair broken bones.
With Lynch safely away, remaining members of the raiding party searched the Nasiriyah hospital, discovering a weapons cache and, in the basement, a dirt terrain model with red and blue markers depicting the positions of Iraqi and U.S. troops in Nasiriyah. It proved to be useful intelligence, Renuart said.
The Iraqi doctor also led the commandos to a burial site in the compound. They had no shovels, so they dug up the graves by hand. They worked quickly, anxious to finish the work before sunrise so they could make their escape. Before long, they discovered nine bodies that they suspected were the remains of U.S. servicemen.
The commandos' effort, Renuart said, was "a great testament to the will and desire of coalition forces to bring their own home."
The remains were moved to the United States, where they were identified as missing U.S. soldiers. Eight were from Lynch's company, and one was from the 3rd Forward Support Group of the 3rd Infantry Division. The names of the eight dead from the 507th were released Friday. But Renuart, true to the secretive nature of Special Operations, did not disclose the names of the commandos who carried out the raid. In the end, they were identified only in the words of the officer who told Lynch they were United States soldiers come to take her home.