Spc. Lori Ann Piestewa, the first Native American woman in history to die in combat while in the U.S. military, had a building in Harmony Church dedicated in her memory on Wednesday.
“I believe Lori never wanted recognition,” her mother, Percy Piestewa, said before the morning ceremony on 8th Division Road at Fort Benning. “She always wanted to stay behind in the background.”
The fallen soldier’s father, Terry Piestewa, also attended, as did her two children, Brandon and Carla, along with more than 100 military, civilian and community leaders to dedicate the Directorate of Training Sustainment headquarters as Piestewa Hall.
“We miss her and love her. She is always in our hearts,” her mother said. “It’s very humbling to be here to know that these people are recognizing her. The whole world in different places continues to recognize what she has done for her country.”
Piestewa, 23, was also the first woman killed in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. A member of the Hopi tribe, she was a native of Tuba City, Ariz.
The 27,000-square-foot building dedicated in her name provides the Maneuver Center of Excellence with support -- including water, fuel, distribution, transportation, training equipment and medical services -- for training armor and infantry soldiers.
Scott Fabozzi, director of the facility, said it was fitting to name the building after a soldier who specialized in logistics.
“She was very courageous, selfless service,” Fabozzi said. “She was more concerned about fellow soldiers and the mission that day.”
Piestewa was deployed to Iraq with the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas, when her convoy got lost and came under heavy attack in Nasiriyah. A rocket propelled grenade struck the front left wheel of the Humvee she was driving, crashing the vehicle into the rear of a disabled tractor-trailer.
Piestewa and fellow soldiers Jessica Lynch and Shoshana Johnson survived the crash with injuries but were taken as prisoners of war. Lynch had tried to fire her M16 but the weapon jammed. Eight other members of the 507th Maintenance Company died in the attack.
Piestewa, who had a head wound, died in an Iraqi hospital. Lynch and others were rescued by Rangers and Special Operations soldiers a week later.
With a nagging shoulder injury, Piestewa didn’t have to deploy with her unit but she persuaded her company commanders to let her go. She and Lynch had become close friends.
“She couldn’t stretch her arm any more than she used to do,” Terry Piestewa said. “That kind of put a bind on her. When she heard about Jessica and the whole unit going in, she said she was going to be there for Jessica.
“When Jessica went in there, she was right there for her, very close,” he added. “They come from two different worlds, Lori out there in the reservation and Jessica in this beautiful green type environment. I don’t know how it happened but they sure got along.”
The honor wasn’t the first memorial to Piestewa. A peak in the Phoenix Mountains near Phoenix was renamed Piestewa Peak. Plaques bearing her name are located at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, Fort Bliss and at Mount Soledad Veterans Memorial in La Jolla, Calif.
In May 2005, Ty Pennington and the crew from ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” built Piestewa’s parents and her children a brand new home in addition to a new veterans center on the Navajo reservation.
On the reservation, Piestewa’s service in the Army has spurred interest from children about the military.
“From the people we talked to, she has made a big impact on Native American tribes and children,” Percy said. “We have kids who are going to join the military. We have parents who say my child wants to join the military. As parents our job is to encourage and support our children if that is what your child wants to do. If they want to follow in Lori’s footsteps, you have to support them.”
Terry said he is proud of his daughter’s children, Brandon Whiterock, a 13-year-old seventh grader, and Carla Piestewa, an 11-year-old sixthgrader. Carla dedicated a poem to her mother at the ceremony.
The children have been placed in an unfortunate situation going to different events for their mother but they have handled them well, their grandfather said.
“They are very, very good about being who they are,” Terry said. “We are just so proud of them.”