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First Name: Lori

Last Name: Piestewa

Birthplace: Tuba City, AZ, USA

Gender: Female

Branch: Army (1784 - present)

Home of Record: Tuba City, AZ
Middle Name: Ann

Date of Birth: 14 December 1981

Date of Death: 23 March 2003

Rank: Specialist

Years Served: 2001-2003
Lori Ann Piestewa

•  Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) (2003 - 2011)


Lori Piestewa
Specialist 4, U.S. Army

Lori Piestewa was born on 14 December 1981 in Tuba City, AZ, to Terry Piestewa and Priscilla "Percy" Baca. Her father is a full-blooded Hopi Native American, and her mother is a Mexican-American. The couple first met in 1964, and married in November 1968.

The Piestewa family had a long military tradition; her paternal grandfather served in the U.S. Army in the European Theatre of World War II; and her father, Terry Piestewa, was drafted in the U.S. Army in September 1965 and served a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before he returned home in March 1967.

The Piestewa family (Lori was a 22-year old divorced, single parent of two small children; Brandon, a 4-year old boy, and Carla, a 3-year old girl) resided in a trailer park in Tuba City, a town located on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Coconino County. As a child, she was given the Hopi name Köcha-Hon-Mana (also spelled Qotsa-hon-mana, meaning White Bear Girl). Her surname, Piestewa, is derived from a Hopi language root meaning "water pooled on the desert by a hard rain"; thus, Piestewa translates loosely as "the people who live by the water."

Lori joined the U.S. Army in October 2001 as a way to support her two children and to help achieve her dreams of going to college. The children were left in the care of her parents.

Ambush in Nasiriyah, Iraq

Private First Class Piestewa was a member of the U.S. Amy's 507th Maintenance Company, a support unit of maintenance and repair personnel. Her company was traveling in a convoy through the desert and was meant to bypass Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq, during the opening days of the war; but the convoy got lost and ran into an ambush in Nasiriyah on 23 March 2003.

The main convoy of the 507th Army Maintenance Company, with the lighter faster moving vehicles, had left 2 hours before. The Supply Company was now at half-strength, deep in hostile territory, and without the protection of the forward battalion. At one point, PFC Jessica D. Lynch's [Honoree Record ID 206656] truck that was hauling a trailer full of water broke down, and it was then that she got into the Humvee that Piestewa was driving. The unit had taken a wrong turn in the desert, stumbling into Nasiriyah by mistake. Without warning, they quickly found themselves surrounded and an easy target. Piestewa's Humvee was going at least 45 mph and weaving to escape gunfire. She had just turned to go around a disabled trailer when a RPG hit her left-front wheel well causing the Humvee to crash into the disabled trailer.

Piestewa, Johnson, and Lynch all survived the crash with injuries, while three other soldiers in the Humvee died. Lynch attempted to fire her M16, but it jammed. They were taken prisoner along with four others; Piestewa and Lynch were placed in a hospital in Nasiriyah.

On 1 April 2003, U.S. Special Forces rescued Lynch from the hospital, but Piestewa was not found. It was then that she was declared Missing in Action. The Special Forces later discovered a mass shallow grave behind the hospital. One of the bodies was later positively identified as Lori Piestewa.

A video of some of the American prisoners of war, including Piestewa (filmed shortly before she died in an Iraqi hospital), was later shown around the world on Al Jazeera television. According to Jessica Lynch's book - I'm a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story-Piestewa was wounded in the head, and it was impossible to perform delicate neurosurgery in an Iraqi civilian hospital in wartime conditions (such as intermittent electric power). In a U.S. military hospital with reliable power and neurosurgeons available around the clock, she might have survived.

The families of soldiers in the 507th heard almost right away of the ambush and fatalities in the unit. The Piestewa family saw people in Lori's unit being interviewed by Iraqi TV, and for more than a week families of the two women waited for news. All around Tuba City signs were hung out telling people: "Put your porch light on, show Lori the way home." They used white stone to spell her name on a 200 foot high mesa just outside the town.

Lori Piestewa was the first American military woman to be killed in the Iraq war. She is also believed to be the first Native American woman to be killed in combat.

Medals and Awards (Posthumous)

Purple Heart
Prisoner of War Medal

The Army also posthumously promoted her from Private First Class to Specialist.

Honoring Piestewa

Jessica Lynch has repeatedly said that Piestewa is the true hero of the ambush and named her daughter, Dakota Ann, in honor of her fallen comrade. In addition, many entities have honored her memory with memorials.

Arizona's state government re-named Squaw Peak in the Phoenix Mountains near Phoenix as Piestewa Peak and this was codified by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names on 10 April 2008. The freeway that passes near this mountain was also re-named in her honor.

South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle honored her, as did Indian Nations across America.

Since her death, the Grand Canyon State Games organizers have held an annual Lori Piestewa National Native American Games, which brings participants from across the country.

A plaque bearing her name is located at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico and at Fort Bliss, TX.

She has also been memorialized with a plaque and ceremony at Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla, CA.

Her death led to a rare joint prayer gathering between members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes, which have had a centuries-old rivalry.

In May 2005, Lori's parents and children had a brand-new home built by Ty Pennington and his crew on ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition accompanied by Jessica Lynch. They also built a new Veterans' Center on the Navajo reservation.

Death and Burial

Specialist Lori Piestewa died on 23 March 2003 in Nasiriyah, Iraq. She is buried at the Hopi Indian Cemetery in Tuba City, AZ.

Honoree ID: 2961   Created by: MHOH




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