In an instant Indian Country grieves for fallen soldier
Facebook Twitter Email

The first message was posted at 1:11 a.m. early Saturday morning, a little over an hour after the Department of Defense unceremoniously confirmed her death. The first e-mail arrived at 2:16 a.m.

Then, a flood. Messages of condolence and sadness. Words of honor and support. And tears, lots of tears.

All in memory of Lori Ann Piestewa, 23, a Hopi / Mexican mother of two who became the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the Iraqi war.

"I sat here in my office, with tears in my heart," wrote Eunice McGee in words for the Piestewa family. "Having just found out that your daughter, sister, mother is no longer on this earth. I cannot begin to understand the heartache and excruciating pain that you must be feeling at this time."

The messages came from all corners of the earth, from members of tribes, from non-Indians, from families whose loved ones are deployed in the Middle East. Few of the senders knew her personally but all were closely touched by a tragedy that Hopi chairman Wayne Taylor Jr. said has "rocked the very foundation" of the 11,000-member tribe to which she belonged.

Many were from parents who identified with the Piestewa family and the two young ones, a four-year-old boy and a three-year-old girl, Lori is leaving behind. "I believe it hits hard with us, mothers who have young children," wrote Bonney Blackwolf.

With more than 12,000 American Indians, Alaska Natives and other indigenous people serving in the U.S. military, it would be easy to count Piestewa as one in a sea of many. But in the age of the Internet, where news travels at the speed of a keystroke, "our little Hopi sister," as one reader put it, quickly became part of everyone's thoughts since March 23, the day her family reported that she was missing in action in Iraq.

"I prayed for her every day and will continue to do so," wrote Donovan Gomez, of Taos Pueblo in New Mexico, and an official for the Eight Northern Indian Pueblos Council (ENIPC).

Silvester Hustito, of the Indian Health Service (IHS), remembered the young woman as "an explosion of beauty and sunshine" in his e-mail. "I am very happy to have spent some moments with her sharing stories and joking around. Her spirit left an indelible mark in my life, and I always knew that she was going to be a great role model one day."

Quentin Estes, a 20-year-old Sicangu Lakota from Rosebud, South Dakota, expressed his feelings through digital means, a fitting tribute for the woman he called a "Modern Day Warrior." Jennifer Whent wrote "Soldier and Friends" in memory of Piestewa and her roommate and friend, Jessica Lynch, who was rescued last week after surviving the ambush that killed eight Army soldiers.

Dozens more called Piestewa a hero, a role model and an inspiration. She made the ultimate sacrifice, they said, for freedom.

"Lori will not be forgotten," wrote one, summing up the feelings of many, "to all Native Americans she is our HERO."

Letters for Lori:
'Our nation has lost a great hero' (4/7)

Related Stories:
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)