On the fourth anniversary of her death, friends and relatives of Army Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa – the first American Indian woman to die in combat for the U.S. – gathered Friday to remember her beneath the mountain renamed in her honor.
Piestewa, 23, died in an ambush with 10 other members of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company in the opening days of the Iraq war.
“We prayed for her to come home,” her father, Terry Piestewa, said before the memorial service. “We didn’t specify how, and this is what we got.”
Among those at Piestewa Peak were members of the 507th who survived the ambush, including Piestewa’s friend, former Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, made famous by her dramatic rescue.
Lynch brought her 2-month-old daughter, Dakota Ann Robinson, whose middle name is in honor of Piestewa.
“Every day, I think of Lori,” Lynch said. “This is a reminder . . . how Lori was such a good friend to me.”
Baby Dakota, draped in a copper-colored coat, sat with her mother and the Piestewa family. She slept through the Phoenix Oyate’s Flag Song, the national anthem sung in Navajo and “America the Beautiful” by the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center VA Voices.
Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation vice president, gave a pink Pendleton blanket to Dakota, to keep her warm and as a gesture of respect.
Brandon Whiterock, Piestewa’s 8-year-old son, is enrolled with the Navajo Nation.
“The Hopi believe that once you go on your journey, you don’t look back,” Terry Piestewa said. But with Lori, “She’s always in the news, there’s always people talking about her.”
In her death, Lori Piestewa became an icon for 21st-century America: a young woman of color, half Hispanic and half Native American, a single mom who joined the Army to make something of herself and to provide for her kids.