“We are here today to remember Lori’s sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice many others have made. We honor those who are here today,” said Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Hopi Tribe Chairman.
It was a tribute and celebration of life, of unity, and of the duty and courage of a U.S. Army soldier in the face of combat.
On Thursday, March 23, 20 years to the day after U.S. Army Specialist Lori Piestewa lost her life following an ambush at Nasiriyah, Iraq, the Piestewa Fallen Heroes Sunrise Service in Phoenix, Arizona, paid deserved tribute and honored her life, service and sacrifice. The 20th anniversary tribute of her loss also honored the sacrifice of all soldiers whose lives have been lost in combat.
Lori was the first woman service member killed in Iraq and the first Native American woman who died as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces. A member of the Hopi community of Arizona, she was among 11 members of the 507th Maintenance Company who lost their lives on March 23, 2003, in addition to Marines and Airmen sent out in an attempt to rescue them.
The early dawn memorial gathering at the Piestewa Fallen Heroes Memorial, at the base of Piestewa Peak named in her honor, included Lori’s family members, other Gold Star families, Veterans, tribal leaders, honor guard units, and local and military officials. The ceremony featured native dancers and performers honoring the culture and traditions of Arizona’s tribal communities.
Three horses descended Piestewa Peak as the service began, two bearing Hopi riders and the third, a white riderless horse, symbolizing the Hopi warrior’s lost life. An Arizona National Guard helicopter flyover was followed by speakers who recalled Lori’s dedication, commitment, valor, and service to the nation – and her proud role as a mother and daughter within her family and Hopi community.
“We are here today to remember Lori’s sacrifice and the ultimate sacrifice many others have made. We honor those who are here today,” said Timothy Nuvangyaoma, Hopi Tribe Chairman. “This ceremony is for all of the fallen heroes and their families. You are not forgotten.”
Brandon Whiterock, Lori Piestewa’s son, told the several hundred attendees, “Whatever you’ve experienced, you can heal and find a way. Uplift each other, their spouses, dependents, other Veterans, and Gold Star families. You are not alone.”
Speakers represented many communities, cultures, backgrounds, military branches, and wars fought. Veterans from Lori’s 507th Maintenance Company, some of whom were taken hostage during the ambush, spoke of her dedication to service and the nation’s freedom. Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego’s proclamation was read, designating the day in remembrance of Lori and all fallen heroes.
Arizona National Guard Director Maj. Gen. Kerry Muehlenbeck said, “Lori had a hidden exuberance and a sense of duty, honor, dedication and selfless service. She was more than a hero. She was a daughter, a sister, a mother.”
“Remember those freedoms you have,” Muehlenbeck added. “Look around – all of you stand on her shoulders.”
The sunrise service and a Gold Star family dinner the night before were organized by the Inter Tribal Council of Arizona/Piestewa Fallen Heroes Memorial, with underwriting support provided by TriWest. The service was followed later in the day by the kickoff of the Piestewa Challenge, a 177-mile virtual event sponsored by the online running and walking group Wear Blue: Run to Remember, in tribute to Lori and all other fallen women Service members.