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Military women to receive national honors

KYKOTSMOVI, Ariz. - Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi Nation at Kykotsmovi, Ariz., has announced that Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, first American service woman killed in combat, will be honored in a new exhibit at Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial. The exhibit was unveiled in a special national Memorial Day ceremony on May 26 entitled, "Voices: Native American Women in the U.S. Armed Forces." Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Nation from Tuba City, lost her life during the Operation Iraqi Freedom campaign.

In his announcement, Taylor called the honoring a "very significant event for Native Americans and military women who made valuable contributions to this country and everything for which it stands." Chairman Taylor attended the event accompanied by several members of the Piestewa family.

Piestewa is one of six American Indian women who will be honored in the new exhibit. Photos, uniforms, letters and other personal effects of each of the women will be used in the exhibit to help depict their lives and tell their stories.

Regular Memorial Day services followed exhibit's unveiling and included formal military honors, remarks and personal tributes to departed comrades by military women currently in service. Brig. Gen. Rita Aragon of Oklahoma, the first Native American woman to hold that post, was the keynote speaker.

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President Ronald Reagan signed legislation authorizing the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in 1986. It was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery in 1997 as the nation's first major national monument constructed specifically to honor women who have served in the nation's armed forces. Honorees include women who served throughout America's history, from the American Revolution to those currently in service.

According to the list of women included in the memorial, more than 1,500 American Indian and Alaskan Native women have served in the United States military since 1994. Shirley Chase, Navajo Nation tribal member from Dilcon, Ariz. and intern with the Women's Memorial Office of History and Collections, laid the groundwork for the exhibit by conducting oral history interviews with Native American service women from many diverse tribal backgrounds. These women gave their perspectives on why Native women choose to join the armed forces, how cultural and gender influences their experience, what jobs they do in the military, and how the service affects their lives. The six honorees were chosen from the interviews Chase conducted.

The exhibit's unveiling was the first part of a two-phased honoring program that features Native Americans in military service. The second exhibit will be sponsored by the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. and is slated for unveiling later in the year.