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Piestewa, Lynch Were Friends; Families Mourn, Rejoice

A photo shows Pfcs. Lori Piestewa and Jessica Lynch the day before they were deployed: roommates, good friends, smiling in their Army fatigues.

For more than a week, Piestewa's family on the Navajo Reservation and Lynch's family in West Virginia were joined in waiting for word of their fate in Iraq.

On Saturday, as Lynch's parents left their home to fly to Germany for a reunion with their rescued daughter, Piestewa's mourned the death of the first American servicewoman killed in the war.

Both women were members of the Army's 507th Maintenance Company, based at Fort Bliss in Texas. Their unit was attacked March 23 when it made a wrong turn near Nasiriyah.

After an agonizing wait, the Lynch family received their miracle Tuesday: U.S. commandos rescued Lynch, wounded but alive, from a hospital.

They unearthed eight bodies as well. Friday night, Piestewa's family learned that she was among them.

Piestewa (pronounced pee-ESS-tuh-wah) was a member of the Hopi Tribe, whose reservation is near the Navajo Reservation community of Tuba City. She was a 23-year-old single mother raising a 4-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl.

"Our family is proud of her. She is our hero," her brother Wayland said Saturday in a prepared statement to reporters. "We are going to hold that in our hearts. She will not be forgotten. It gives us comfort to know that she is at peace right now."

Behind him, family members and friends gathered on the porch of Piestewa's parents' trailer. Cars stopped briefly in front of the home as neighbors got out and handed flowers to the family.

A low chain-link fence in front of the home was adorned with yellow ribbons, a red, white and blue heart and a sign with a picture of Piestewa, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center towers.

The Lynch family got word of the deaths just before boarding a plane in Charleston, W.Va., on their way to Germany. The family broke off a news conference after being told that seven members of their daughter's unit were among the eight bodies retrieved during the raid.

"I wasn't aware of this ... Our hearts are really saddened for her other troop members and the other families," Lynch's father, Gregory Lynch Sr., said before choking up.

Piestewa and Lynch were good friends and roommates, said Myra Draper, a friend of the Piestewa family. She recognized Lynch in television broadcasts because she had seen family photos of the two women together.

Wayland Piestewa said no other relatives wished to speak with reporters. However, a woman who declined to give her name gave The Associated Press the picture of Lynch and Lori Piestewa together, saying it was taken the day before they headed overseas.

"Our prayers are with the Lynch family in West Virginia," said Wayne Taylor Jr., chairman of the Hopi Tribe. "We thank God that she survived her ordeal. Her bravery speaks volumes of her character and we wish her a continued speedy recovery."

Piestewa was one of the very few American Indian women in the armed forces. Hopi officials said that 56 Hopis are serving in the U.S. military, 48 of them in Iraq.

This town of 8,200 and members of the Hopi and Navajo tribes rallied around Piestewa's family, hanging yellow balloons and uplifting messages outside their trailer.

On Saturday, just inside the entrance to the Bashas' Supermarket, residents crowded to view a large photo of Piestewa in uniform and sign green poster boards with messages to the family.

"She was so full of spirit. There was never a time I saw her upset or mad," Gloria Bigman said.

"It's hard to understand; one lived, one didn't," said the Rev. Hal Corbett, pastor at Tuba City Assembly of God.