Nearly 300 people — many wearing yellow ribbons with a white feather — gathered Wednesday at Arizona State University to remember Lori Piestewa of Tuba City, the first American servicewoman to die in the Iraq war.
"She was tough. She fought for her country. She was our hero," said Mesa resident Donnie Whiterock, Piestewa’s brotherin-law.
The 1 1 /2-hour candlelight vigil began about 7:15 p.m with a Navajo prayer on the north side of Hayden Lawn in the center of the Tempe campus.
Al Carroll, a historian who writes about American Indians in the U.S. military, drew a loud response from the crowd when he called for the Squaw Peak Parkway in Phoenix to be renamed the Piestewa Parkway.
Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe, has become the most recognizable American Indian to serve in the U.S. military since Ira Hayes, he said. Hayes, who was born on the Gila River Indian Community, was one of the four men potographed raising the American flag on Mount Suribachi during the battle for Iwo Jima during World War II.
Jerome Clark, who helped coordinate the event along with Carmenlita Chief, said they wanted a platform for American Indians to show their grief and support for the safe return of the troops.
The Tempe residents emphasized that the vigil was not a political event.
"We are not antiwar or pro-war," Clark said.
Piestewa, a single mother raising a 4-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl, was killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom after her unit was attacked March 23.
She was a member of the Army’s 507 th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss, Texas, and a close friend and roommate of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, who was taken prisoner after the attack.
Piestewa’s family learned Friday of her death after a team of U.S. commandos rescued a wounded Lynch from an Iraqi hospital. The commandos also uncovered the bodies of nine GIs that had been buried near the hospital. Piestewa was among them.
During the ceremony, Thaylia Charlie, Piestewa’s aunt, said she and her family were overwhelmed by the support they have received.
"The price of freedom is not free," said Charlie after addressing the crowd. "We know that now."