20th Anniversary of Lori Piestewa’s Passing
May 2, 2023
It’s been 20 years since U.S. Army Specialist Lori Piestewa lost her life in combat on March 23, 2003.
Piestewa was deployed in Iraq and on a convoy when her group was ambushed. Piestewa, her best friend, Jessica Lynch, and others were taken prisoner. Piestewa didn’t survive. She became the first female service member to die in Iraq and the first Native American woman killed while fighting for the U.S. military.
Piestewa, who was from Tuba City, Arizona, was a member of the Hopi tribe. Brandon Whiterock, her son, was just four years old when he lost his mother. Now he’s 24, a year older than his mother was when she was killed in the line of duty.
Piestewa’s legacy has changed Whiterock’s perspective. “Over the years, it’s been a stepping stone each time on the way,” Whiterock said. “Each year has presented such a difficult meaning and also has helped me grow and live life in a way that not normal other kids would as my age. So I definitely had struggles and definitely had to overcome in certain ways as well.”
Whiterock said he grew up in the spotlight and said it was good and bad. He said he talked to other students his age.
“Aside from working at the Veterans Center, I speak to other kids across the country in middle schools, high schools, just kind of tell them what it means, the word ‘freedom’ and to believe in themselves,” Whiterock said. “So that’s kind of helped spark my journey too as well, to help others and understand that too.”
Whiterock said he only has a very slight memory of his mother, since he was so young, but he loves to reflect on memories.
The community members quite frequently honor his mother. “What they do is they basically just honor her by remembering her name. And by doing that, they have different functions and different memorials in honor of her name too as well. There’s actually a Hopi post named after her on the Hopi reservation, and they go to a lot of functions all over the country and just in honor of her.”