Piestewa friend calls Hopi woman the real hero
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Jessica Lynch with Lori Piestewa and Piestewa's son, Brandon, prior to deployment to Middle East.

I am a Soldier, too: The Jessica Lynch Story
Lori Piestewa, the first Native American servicewoman to die in combat, was recovering from a shoulder injury when her Army unit was given orders to deploy to Iraq, according to a book published on Tuesday.

Her medical status meant she didn't have to go, the book states. But she chose to so that her best friend and roommate, Jessica Lynch, wouldn't be alone overseas.

"She went because Jessi did," author Rick Bragg writes in I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story. "A 23-year-old mother of two, Piestewa knew that her roommate was nervous, and she did not want her to face the desert, and war, on her own."

That was February 17. A month later, Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe of Arizona, and Lynch were traveling in southern Iraq when their unit was ambushed by Iraqi soldiers. Confusion erupted as they came under enemy fire, according to the book.

Yet Piestewa, who was driving the humvee Lynch was riding in, stayed focused. "Everybody was trying to talk at once, and there was all of this yelling, but Lori was quiet," Lynch says in the book. "She knew what she was doing. I could hear bullets hitting the other vehicles, and I looked at her and I knew she hadn't given up."

But the humvee was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. It caused Piestewa to lose control, and she ran into a tractor trailer that was part of the Army unit. She suffered a serious head wound as a result of the attack, according to the book, and died at a hospital where Iraqi soldiers had dropped her and Lynch off.

That was March 23. Several days later, Lynch was rescued in a dramatic, videotaped operation that military sources played up for the media. Those initial accounts portrayed Lynch, just 19 at the time, as a brave soldier who went down fighting and was seriously injured in the ambush.

But that story doesn't ring true to Lynch. In fact, she says it was Piestewa who deserves praise.

"She was there for me," Lynch, now 20, said in her first public interview, broadcast last night on ABC. "She had my back the whole time."

Lynch's ordeal inspired a frenzy of media coverage, including a made-for-TV movie that was aired on Sunday night. Piestewa's death stirred strong emotions in Indian Country but did not receive as much attention by the national media.

"I don't look at myself as a hero," Lynch said in the ABC interview. "My heroes are Lori, the soldiers that are over there, the soldiers that were in that car beside me, the ones that came and rescued me."

Piestewa was also of Mexican heritage. She embraced both sides of her culture, her parents and family have said. Her favorite food was Mexican, her mother has pointed out.

Piestewa, who was promoted posthumously from the rank of private first class to specialist, was just one of 12,000 Native Americans who are currently serving in the military. The Hopi Tribe alone counts 5,200 veterans among its people.

"Specialist Piestewa . . . as well as many Native American women who enlist in various branches of the military, joined because of one reason that unites us all," Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi Tribe, said at a Memorial Day ceremony held in her honor. "They were Americans. Americans who simply answered the call of duty."

In the book, Lynch said she would do anything to have Piestewa -- who was known as "Pi" -- back. "We went and we did our job, and that was to go to the war, but I wish I hadn't done it - I wish it had never happened," Lynch said. "I'd give four hundred billion dollars. I'd give anything."

Book Excerpts:
Wrong Turn in the Desert [long] | I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story [short]

ABC News Story and Video:
Fear and Relief (November 11, 2003)

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