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Monday, November 17, 2003

Honoring Lori Piestewa

Indian Leaders Honor Hopi Servicewoman Killed in War With Iraq
By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press Writer
Published: Nov 17, 2003

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, the first American servicewoman killed in the war with Iraq, was remembered Monday as a brave soldier who made her family and fellow American Indians proud.

Piestewa's mother, father and two small children watched as the National Congress of American Indians signed a proclamation honoring the fallen soldier during its annual conference.

The proclamation said Piestewa served her country valiantly when the 507th Maintenance Company was ambushed by Iraqi forces in March. Piestewa, a member of the Hopi tribe in Arizona, and eight other soldiers were killed when their supply convoy became lost and entered Iraqi-held Nasiriyah.

"Today we look to the creator to comfort the parents and the children of Lori and the families of all of these fallen warriors," NCAI President Tex G. Hall said.

Her mother, Percy, wiped tears from her eyes and gave kisses to Piestewa's youngest child, 3-year-old Carla, as she bounced up and down to the beating drums of an honor song played by two members from Taos Pueblo.

The soldier's father, Terry Piestewa, told The Associated Press on Monday that his family was honored to travel to New Mexico to meet with people who have found a place in their hearts for his daughter.

Two of Lori Piestewa's friends, Pfc. Jessica Lynch and Spc. Shoshana Johnson, were captured in the same ambush and survived.

AP-ES-11-17-03 2258EST

Hopi woman killed in Iraq is honored
In a salute to veterans, the Seminole Tribe hosts ceremonies honoring Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi, who became the first woman soldier to die during Iraq duty.


That Seminole word, meaning ''thank you,'' was repeated many times Thursday as Native American veterans from around the nation honored one of their own, a Hopi who was the first female soldier to die in Iraq.

Gathered at the Seminole Big Cypress Entertainment Complex on Broward County's western edge for the 16th annual Veterans Day Celebration, about 300 Native Americans were part of a tribute to Pfc. Lori Piestewa.

She was 23 years old in March when Iraqis ambushed her 507th Maintenance Co. and captured her comrades, including her closest friend and roommate, Pfc. Jessica Lynch. On Sunday, NBC will broadcast a TV movie about Lynch's ordeal.

Piestewa has not received the same level of attention, said Seminole spokesman Elrod Bowers, but tribes from across the country have pulled together to show their support for her family.

''In the Seminole culture, it's not accepted to be loud about your accomplishments, to be out there about what you've done,'' he said. ``We are more subdued.''

Nodding in solemn gratitude, Piestewa's parents accepted a hand-carved flute decorated with fringe and American flags.

In Seminole culture, the flute symbolizes healing, tribe member Steven Bowers explained. The dead soldier's father, Percy Piestewa, listened intently as his wife, Terry Piestewa, wrapped her arms around Lori's children, Brandon, 5, and Carla, 3. Piestewa was divorced, and the children now live with her parents.

Highly guarded about the details of their daughter's life, the Piestewas were quiet throughout the day's events, but seemed comfortable joining in a victory dance performed by the Comanche Little Pony Warrior Society, a national group with some Florida members.

''We are very humbled,'' said Percy Piestewa. ``We thank you, and God bless you all.''

Immediately after they received news of their daughter's death, they told the cavalcade of reporters who descended on their town that Lori might be embarrassed by all the attention. Nevertheless, her name and legacy are now etched in American history. For example, Squaw Peak in Phoenix was named after her this summer.

The Seminoles contacted the Piestewa family in June, offering to pay their way from their home in Arizona to South Florida for the ceremony. The tribe traditionally hosts a memorial before Veterans' Day to allow Native American servicemen and women to celebrate with their fellow soldiers of all backgrounds on the national holiday, which this year is on Tuesday.

Military accomplishments were acknowledged proudly Thursday, with four hours of dancing, singing and schoolchildren from the Seminole's Ahfachkee School reading poems and essays with patriotic themes.

A display included photographs of decorated Seminole soldiers. The tribe's members have been awarded purple hearts, and have served multiple tours in Vietnam and World War II. One was a member of the White House staff under three presidents, earning him the President's Service Badge.

Dave Forman, president of Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 23 Broward, said 14 Seminoles gave their life in that war. He served as an Air Police officer from 1964 to 1965.

He said he feels a solidarity with Native American veterans. ''When we came home, we had to fight with the federal government to get everything we got,'' he said. ``And they have fought just as hard to get every honor they deserve.''