Piestewa is first U.S. servicewoman killed in Iraq
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Lori Piestewa, 23, confirmed dead in Iraq. File Photo El Paso Times.
FALLEN: Army private first class Lori Piestewa killed in action in Iraq. File Photo © El Paso Times.
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Percy Piestewa
Navajo Nation

Lori Ann Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, was killed in action in Iraq after her military unit was ambushed March 23, the Department of Defense confirmed late Friday.

Army private first class Piestewa had been considered missing in action until her body was recovered during a daring rescue of a fellow soldier, Jessica Lynch, and later identified by medical examiners at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The 23-year-old single mother of two was the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the Iraqi war.

"Our family is proud of her. She is our hero," her brother Wayland said on Saturday outside the Piestewa family home in Arizona. "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."

"This tragedy has rocked the very foundation of the Hopi Reservation," added Hopi chairman Wayne Taylor in a statement. "We will get through this and we will continue to pray that all of our soldiers, not just Hopi, are safely returned home to their families."

Confirmation of the death capped off nearly two weeks of continuous vigils held in Tuba City, Arizona, a town on the Navajo Reservation that is not far from the Hopi Reservation were her Piestewa's roots also extend. Loved ones in both communities recalled her as a school mascot, a junior ROTC commander and a softball star -- the "tough cookie" who came from a family of veterans and leaves behind a four-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter.

"It's hard to leave them, but they are going to be with their grandmother," she told The El Paso Times before being deployed in mid-February. "I'm excited to go see something new. I'm also going to learn a lot."

A graduate of Tuba City High School, Piestewa was part of the 507th Ordnance Maintenance Company out of Fort Bliss in Texas. According to military reports, 15 members of the unit were attacked by Iraqi soldiers near Nasiriyah as they tried to catch up with an Army convoy.

Some escaped the skirmish but others died during or after it. Others who survived were taken prisoner, including Lynch, 19, a friend and roommate of Piestewa who was rescued last week from a hospital where eight bodies were found.

"Our hearts are really saddened for her other troop members and the other families," said Lynch's father, Gregory, after being told of the deaths.

Piestewa was of Hopi and Mexican heritage and embraced both cultures. At age 15, she participated in a Hopi initiation ceremony and a quincenera, a Mexican coming-of-age celebration, according to a 1995 Scholastic Update article that described her family's Native and Catholic faiths.

"You know more about life from different points of view," her brother Adam, then 16, said in the article. "When you have a hard decision to make, it's easier to determine what's right because it's usually the choice taught by both cultures."

Preparations for Piestewa's return to Arizona are underway. She will be honored as part of an exhibit, set to open May 24, at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Department of Defense News Release:
Piestewa ambushed Mar. 23 (Dod 4/5)

Related Stories:
Hopi Woman Confirmed Dead (4/5)
Readers react to Piestewa tragedy (4/5)
Letters of Support Lori Piestewa and Family(4/4)
Piestewa: 'When is his mom coming home?' (4/4)
Rescued soldier has no information on Piestewa (4/4)
Military begins difficult identification process (4/4)
Rescued soldier watched unit members die (4/3)
Fellow Piestewa unit member rescued in Iraq (4/2)
Vigil held in Ariz. for missing Hopi soldier (3/27)
Hopi Tribe prays for return of missing soldier (3/26)
Piestewa Family Letter: Thank you for prayers (3/26)
Ariz. soldier reported missing (3/25)