TUBA CITY, Ariz. - The Pentagon identified Pfc. Lori Piestewa as one of the soldiers found dead during the rescue of an American POW in Iraq.
Sen. Tom Daschle D-S.D. spoke of the Hopi warrior on the floor, April 7. "Private Piestewa is the first Native American woman in the U.S. armed forces ever to die as a result of combat. She was 23 years old. She leaves behind two small children, a 4-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She also leaves behind a broken-hearted but proud family and countless friends."
Daschle emphasized the sometimes unrecognized forces of Native Americans serving the United States military. "There are more than 12,000 Native Americans serving in our military today - including many from my state of South Dakota. They, and Pfc. Piestewa, are part of a noble tradition that too few Americans know much about. It is a tradition that includes heroes like the "Code Talkers" of World War II, the service members from the Lakota and Navajo and other Indian nations who developed the only military code that was never broken by the Japanese. ? Today, Pfc. Piestewa takes her place alongside them as an American who risked everything to protect her land and her people."
Percy Piestewa, Lori's mother, released a rare statement April 6, after asking the media to respect the family's privacy, responding to the outpouring of sympathy from the nation and world, thankful for all the support. "People from all over the world, from all over the nation, from people who feel as if Lori were their own daughter. We ask people that they hug their little ones, tell them how much they mean to them - all the naliis (paternal grandmothers), all the kids."
The bodies of the eight soldiers were found when U.S. troops raided the hospital where Pfc. Jessica Lynch was being held captive, the Pentagon reported. Seven of those soldiers were members of Lynch's unit, the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed near Nasiriyah on March 23.
Several prayer services were held in honor of the Hopi solider and other military personnel since the family received news of Piestewa's disappearance weeks ago. Percy Piestewa's statement also said that Lori's deeply held religious beliefs likely helped sustain the soldier in her final hours and that "God took her so that she no longer would be suffering." In Associated press reports, Lori's brother Wayland spoke to reporters saying, "Our family is proud of her. She is our hero. We are going to hold that in our hearts. She will not be forgotten. It gives us comfort to know that she is at peace right now."
Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor said in a statement on April 4, "The tragedy has rocked the very foundation of the Hopi reservation since many of us have been continually praying with the Piestewa family for Lori's safe return."
Wayland Piestewa added, "We ask you to continue to pray for all the troops, all the servicemen and women and the world leaders ... so that our children will know one day what it is to live in a world of peace and so that there will be a quick end to this conflict as well as other conflicts around the world."
According to Daschle, Piestewa will be honored at another memorial on May 24. Red rose petals will be placed in the reflecting pool of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in her honor.
Daschle continued, "The thoughts and prayers of our nation are with the family and friends of Pfc. Lori Piestewa. She was an American hero. We are deeply grateful to her for her service and sacrifice - and to all Native Americans who are serving, and have served, our nation in uniform."
Memorial funds created for Piestewa
Friends and family of Lori Piestewa have established a memorial fund for her 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter, who are being cared for by their grandparents in Tuba City. Those wishing to contribute to the fund, which will be used to raise the children and for their future educational needs, can send checks to "Lori Piestewa's Memorial Fund" at Wells Fargo Bank Account #0464633783. For more information or questions please contact Dee Wilson at (928) 380-4647 or Dolly Lane at (928) 283-3012.