“Ten years have passed and today I took it hard. Ten years ago today we lost our comrades. Memories fade but the pain never goes away,” said Joseph Hudson at the 10th Annual Lori Piestewa Sunrise Memorial to a crowd of about 200 people, including family members of those killed in the Iraq War.
Hudson, a former prisoner of war, who along with Lori Ann Piestewa, Hopi, was in the U.S. Army’s 507 Maintenance Company when Iraqi army forces ambushed their convoy on March 23, 2003 near the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. Piestewa, a single mother of two, along with 10 other soldiers died from their injuries as a result of the attack. Piestewa became the first Native American woman in history to be killed in action while serving in the U.S. military and the first female U.S. soldier to die in Iraq. Piestewa Peak, named in her honor, served as the backdrop for the memorial event.
Before sunrise, Piestewa’s nephew, Jalen Scott, ran into the park dressed in traditional Hopi garb and carrying a memorial staff, leading honor riders and honored guests to the service. Color guard units from as far away as the Crow Agency in Montana participate annually in the posting of the colors. Piestewa’s daughter Carla sang the National Anthem.
Hudson, along with former POW’s Jessica Lynch, Shoshana Johnson and Patrick Miller, have been attending the Piestewa memorial events in Arizona almost every year to remember those who died that fateful day in Iraq. Miller, who returned to active duty and is currently serving in Afghanistan, could not attend this year’s ceremony. Lori’s parents Percy and Terry treat the former POWs as children of their own. “We are all one family and it will be that way forever,” said Terry Piestewa, Lori’s father. “It’s been a tough 10 years for all of us. I know Lori is looking down and smiling."
"Thank you, guys, for allowing us into your hearts and homes,” said Lynch who named her daughter Dakota Ann after her best friend Lori Ann.
“We have to have these memorial events so our children will never forget and so our grandchildren will never forget,” said Hudson, who read the names of those killed on March 23, 2003. The parents of soldiers who died in the Iraq War are also recognized at the event and at a candlelight vigil the night before. Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly and Hopi Chairman LeRoy Shingoitewa both spoke at the sunrise service.
“I want to thank you, ex-POWs, Gold Star parents, families, for the courage, strength, endurance that you have to go on, to go on in a positive way. We have always said and continue to say we feel Lori’s purpose was to bring people together in unity and harmony. What more can I say? Thank you!” said Percy Piestewa at the end of the service.