PHOENIX – March 23, 2023, marked the 20th year of U.S. Army Specialist Lori Piestewa’s death. Piestewa (Hopi) was the first Native American woman to be killed in combat and the first woman killed in the Iraq War. This year the Muscogee Nation’s men’s and women’s honor guards were able to honor Piestewa, her team, and other Prisoners of War/Missing in Action and Gold Star Families.
It was a two-day ceremony beginning with a dinner on Wednesday, March 22. Honor guards and representatives from all over came together to support the families of those who made the sacrifice of serving in the U.S. military. The night began with a Pass In Review of each group, coming from all over the country. Then Gold Star Families and POW/MIAs were recognized, dinner was served, and individuals gave performances.
On Thursday, March 23 the official 20th anniversary of Piestewa’s sacrifice, a sunrise ceremony began with George Piestewa carrying a traditional Red Hawk Feather Memorial Staff to the top of Piestewa Peak. The peak was renamed in Piestewa’s honor on April 17, 2003.
This memorial is a place of healing not only for the Piestewa family, but also for the family and friends of those who gave their all.
Former POWs Patrick Miller, Jessica Lynch, Joe Hudson, Edgar Hernandez, and Shoshana Johnson attended the event. They spoke about who Piestewa was, and read aloud the names of those who are not here today. Although they each lost a friend that day, and the Piestewa family lost their daughter and mother, they did gain something new.
Piestewa’s sacrifice brought them together, creating a bond they each needed. Each one is able to lean on the other and aid in their healing journey.
Attending the Piestewa Fallen Heroes Memorial was a great honor. They presented Percy Piestewa, Lori’s mother, with a Pendleton blanket during the ceremony as a token of respect and honor.
“It was a huge honor to pay tribute to a fellow warrior sister that shed her blood for our country, our people and morals,” said Este Cate Hoktvke Suletawv Treasurer, Sarah Wilson. “We want to let her family know that we are thinking of them as they continue through life.”
“She will never be forgotten along with other service members.”
This memorial also marked the first out-of-state event for the Este Cate Hoktvke Suletawv.
“It was amazing to be able to meet her mother and son, both having such gentle and positive spirits on this anniversary day.” said Este Cate Hoktvke Suletawv Commander, Megan Lowry. “It was truly a heartfelt and meaningful event to have the opportunity to participate, and we are definitely planning to go back if possible.”
Both the men’s and women’s honor guards marched and presented colors during the ceremonial dinner and memorial service.
Lori Piestewa was a single mother of two, Carla and Brandon, and wanted a better life for them. She joined the Army in March 2001 and completed basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Piestewa earned the rank of Private First Class while serving with the 507th Maintenance Company in Fort Bliss, Texas.
As part of the worldwide war on terror, President George W. Bush authorized the invasion of Iraq on March 19, 2003. Since this was the first war in which American service women could actively serve in combat forces, Piestewa was deployed to fight for her country as a member of the 507th Maintenance Company.
On March 23, three days later, Piestewa’s convoy was ambushed and bombarded with fire, including a rocket-propelled grenade that led to a deadly collision. She became both the first woman killed in action in the Iraq War and the first Native American woman to do so.
Due to Lori Piestewa’s courage, commitment, and fearlessness while serving her nation, she was retrospectively promoted to Specialist and given the Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal.
“I remember the news stories only ever mention Jessica Lynch, I had no idea a Native Woman Warrior had given the ultimate sacrifice,” Lowry said. “It is of the utmost importance that we continue to give a voice and pay tribute to her family, honoring that sacrifice.”
The Piestewa Challenge, launched this year, was created in memory of the 177 women who lost their lives while participating in military activities around the world. This challenge was named in honor of SPC Lori Piestewa and took place March 23 – 29.
The Piestewa Fallen Heroes Memorial takes place every year in Phoenix, Arizona.