Fourth Annual Memorial Services for Families of Our Fallen Heroes
March 23 is four years from the date that those serving in United States Army 507th Maintenance Company, Army Forward Support Battalion 3d Infantry Division, North Carolina Marines of Task Force Tarawa and Air Force 347th Rescue Wing 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons gave their lives in the name of freedom. The lives of eleven Soldiers, eighteen Marines and six Airmen ended on March 23, 2003. Thirty-five families are grieving to this day for their American heroes.
Patriot Guard Riders and Navajo Nation Honor Riders escort Families of the Fallen and POWs to Piestewa Peak
Posting of the colors was rendered by Ft. Huachuca Select Army Honor Guard, lead honor guard who today honor those who serve and remember the fallen. This honor guard is a representative of the United States Army at functions throughout the Southwestern United States supporting military as well as honors of courtesy for the enhancement of espirit de corps.
Members of the 507th who survived the ambush, former POWs Shoshana Johnson, Joseph Hudson and Patrick Miller, and Jessica Lynch, were among the mourners. Jessica Lynch brought her 2-month-old daughter, Dakota Ann Robinson, whose middle name is in honor of Lori Piestewa. Baby Dakota who was draped in a copper-colored coat sat with her mother and the Piestewa family. She slept through the Phoenix Oyate's Flag Song, the national anthem sung in Navajo and "America the Beautiful" by the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center VA Voices. Ben Shelly, Navajo Nation vice president, gave a pink Pendleton blanket to Dakota, to keep her warm and as a gesture of respect. Brandon Whiterock, Lori's son, is enrolled with the Navajo Nation.
Former prisoner of war Jessica Lynch stands for the playing of the national anthem during the sunrise memorial service at Piestewa Peak in Phoenix. "Every day, I think of Lori," Jessica said, good friend and fellow soldier to Lori. "This is a reminder . . . how Lori was such a good friend to me."
Lori's father, Terry, was joined at the podium by Lori's children Carla and Brandon, his wife Percy, and Governor Wayne Kuwanhyaoima of Upper Village of Moenkopi, who traveled from Tuba City where Lori grew up. Jessica was thanked for embracing Lori's family. "We will forever be grateful to you for becoming and accepting part of our family and giving the name Lori Ann Piestewa to your daughter"
Hopi Nation Chairman Benjamin Nuvamsa, at podium, spoke at the Sunrise Service.
But it's not in the Hopi tradition to memorialize the dead. "The Hopi believe that once you go on your journey, you don't look back," says Lori's father, Terry Piestewa. But with Lori, "That's the way of healing. In her case, we don't have that choice because she's always in the news, there's always people talking about her." Four years later, they tell of Lori's story and spirit. He and his wife, Percy, share willingly.
Lori died doing what soldiers do which is defending her comrades and her country. Jessica's televised rescue was in itself exemplary, that is a picture of America's every daughter plucked out of the horrors of war.
Lori's father, Terry, who saw combat in Vietnam, calls his daughter a warrior. He sees the mountain as more than just a monument to her. "It's named after Lori," he said, "but yet it stands for every vet that didn't get to come home, man or woman, no matter where they come from. We're all one people." And Joe Hudson continues to say, "The true heroes do not live to tell their stories."
Friends and family of Lori Piestewa have organized the memorials for the past four years to recognize her and all fallen military personnel. Last year at the request of Terry and Percy Piestewa, the committee focused on reaching out to all families that have lost loved ones thanking them for the sacrifice that they will carry throughout their lives and in succeeding generations. This gathering continues to express the unity of loved ones who were lost at war or are still at war. The all day memorial was a multicultural, spiritual and patriotic experience at which people from all walks of life gathered in memory of our fallen.
The Pass and Review of Colors saluted and honored families of the fallen and WWII (POW) Bataan "Death Walk" Survivor Phillip W. Coon, from the Muscogee Creek Nation. On April 9, 1942, about 70,000 American and Filipino prisoners were forced to walk a deadly march of about 65 miles. On this walk, the soldiers were badly treated, some were killed, and others died from sickness. This March caused the death of many United States and Filipino soldiers. It is awful to know that this happened and the amount of people that died. We have respect to those that have survived this horrible act where they marched for our country. We now can see that having hope can overcome fear.
The master of ceremonies for the evening reception was Miss Navajo Nation 2006-07 Jocelyn Billy, who believes that "Your words, your dreams, and your thoughts have power to create conditions in your life?What you speak about, you can bring about?"
Members of the Hopi American Legion Post 80, Muscogee Creek Nation Honor Guard, Ft. Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, 9th Memorial U. S. Calvary (Buffalo Soldiers), Veterans of Foreign Wars State Memorial Honor Guard were in attendance, but the performance in the pass and review of units from the Ft. Huachuca Select Army Honor Guard, City of Phoenix Fire Department Pipes and Drums, Scottish-American Military Society Post 48, Marine Corps League Casa Grande Detachment 901, and Blackfeet Warrior Society was dramatically striking, outstanding and sensational.
Some of these units performed above and beyond what was expected. For example, Sgt. 1st Class Vern West of the Arizona National Guard returned from a busy schedule to give the evening rendition of TAPS; Ft. Huachuca Select Army Honor Guard attended each event after winding through unknown Phoenix Valley streets without maps and direction; and Luke Air Force Base Honor Guard were also at each event but found they had to depart the evening event after arriving due to another commitment. It is most rewarding to meet these soldiers and airmen and see that our country and our freedom are in such capable hands! Freedom is not free and we all owe so much to their dedication.
The special evening event remembered sons and daughters and loved ones that gave their all in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Mothers and family members of the fallen heroes who came from near and far were acknowledged for they nurtured in these heroes the great unselfishness, love of country and discipline that led them to make the ultimate sacrifice for this Nation.
A presentation of a Mother's Medal of Honor, appropriate to honor the mothers of our Fallen Heroes at memorial services, was given to each mother in attendance. Moms have paid a very big price in pursuing the Great Cause of Freedom, for they stayed at home and supported the troops with their many prayers while faced with the fears and worries of their loved ones being in harms way. Moms cried and sent care packages to their children who were serving in the Great Cause of Freedom. Their children, now grown, have trained and have prepared themselves to protect our freedoms known as the American way of life. The medal shows a mother holding her child while the eagle is sent to protect her and the child. The eagle is translated as the Creator guarding the family of our young men and women who are gone protecting our land and our ways. President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated: "It's the mothers who are the fountain head of our great nation, for it is the mothers who bring moral value to the foreground of America." Designed by Marshall Tall Eagle Serna and granddaughter Elissa's desire to honor moms, the "Mothers Medal of Honor" pays tribute and honor to mothers of our veterans and military people.
"Their sacrifice deserves to be remembered. We owe the fallen a debt of gratitude to keep their memory alive and to give thanks to our heroes for their valor and willingness to serve our Country." However, for every one of the fallen, there are more than ten that suffer serious permanent wounds and severe mental anguish that will last a lifetime also affecting their families. We pray that our Creator watch over all our military and protect them from the enemy and bring them back home safely.
At the conclusion of the day's events, a candlelight vigil was held and some wept, some prayed and others just stared to the skylight as the reflection of the lights seemed to represent the souls of America's sacrifices, the lives that have ended but not forgotten.
Piestewa Memorial Committee
Josie Kakar-Delsi 520-836-1022
Ernest Martinez (Chairman) 602-312-8663
Liz Gonzales 623-334-9393