Ceremony pays tribute to Piestewa and Native women
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TUESDAY, MAY 27, 2003

HONORED: Members of the Piestewa family at the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery. May 26, 2003. Photo © NSM.

VOICES: Native women in the armed forces focus of new exhibit. Photo © NSM.
Brandon Piestewa celebrated his fifth birthday on Monday the way most kids his age do. Roused from a well-deserved nap and surrounded by family and friends, he blew out the candles on his chocolate cake and retreated to a side room with a balloon tied to his wrist.

But this was ordinary birthday party. Brandon turned five at a moving ceremony dedicated to the memory of his mother, Spc. Lori Piestewa, the Hopi woman killed in action in Iraq and the only U.S. servicewoman to die in the military campaign.

Arranged by the Women In Military Service For America Memorial, located at Arlington National Cemetery, the tribute brought together veterans, tribal leaders and hundreds others for the official opening of an exhibit dedicated to the Native women who have served in the armed forces. Over the course of two hours, speakers thanked the Piestewa family for their daughter's sacrifice and the attention it has brought to Indian Country's women warriors, who often go unrecognized.

"We know that her loss was not in vain," said Marcia Kingman of the Navajo Nation.

Piestewa, 23, was killed in action March 23 when her Army unit was ambushed in southern Iraq. Details of the skirmish have not been fully released -- a military report is expected to be made public in a few weeks -- but Piestewa is said to have died defending her fellow troops.

Promoted posthumously to the rank of specialist, Piestewa came from a strong military background. Her father was a Vietnam veteran and other family members have served in the armed forces. She also participated in the Junior ROTC program at Tuba City High School and was the first female student to take top physical fitness honors there.

"Specialist Piestewa . . . as well as many Native American women who enlist in various branches of the military, joined because of one reason that unites us all," said Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona. "They were Americans. Americans who simply answered the call of duty."

Adam Piestewa, Lori's older brother, spoke on behalf of the family. He read from a poem dedicated to his sister. "Some may call me a hero," he said, "but I was just doing my job."

Tribal leaders and Native veterans presented Piestewa's mother, Priscilla (Percy), and father, Terry, with several gifts. The Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians donated $2,000 to a memorial fund created for Brandon and his sister, Carla, 3. The Kumeyaay Tribe brought a flute. The Table Mountain Rancheria gave four blankets representing life, love, strength and knowledge and wisdom.

"With these things, we can do all things," said said Aaron Jones the Table Mountain vice-chairman, "and I believe Lori had all these things in her life."

The gifts from Connie Walker-Evans, a Nez Perce woman who served in the Vietnam War, were very personal. She presented the Piestewas with her eagle feather and shawl.

"[Piestewa] will be mentioned in the annals of Indian history," observed Daniel King, president of the Wisconsin Indian Veterans Association.

Brandon and Carla were each given teddy bears from the Women In Military Service For America Memorial that read "My Mother Wears Combat Boots."

Ten members of the family traveled to Washington, D.C., for various services. They were guests of President Bush at the White House and attended a Memorial Day service at the Arlington National Cemetery earlier in the day.

The exhibit, entitled "Voices: Native American Women in the U.S. Armed Forces," features photos, artifacts and other items. Six women, including Piestewa, are profiled.

Relevant Links:
Women In Military Service For America Memorial

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