In the height of the war in Iraq, Private First Class Lori Piestewa became the first female killed in action. She died in the same convoy ambush that led to the capture of her friend and roommate, Jessica Lynch.
But Piestewa's brother, Wayland, says, "She's around all the time. She's around constantly."
Since her death last March, Piestewa has become an icon for the Hopi tribe and for Native Americans across the country. In an exclusive interview, her family spoke with Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffman.
Wayland insists his sister's spirit will be with him always. In the red rocks of Tuba City, Ariz., the young woman who died in Iraq lives on in the love of friends and family.
About her daughter, Percy Piestewa, says, "She's just another miracle that we were blessed to be able to share 23 years with."
Lori Piestewa was part of the 507th Maintenance Brigade. Her unit wasn't supposed to be a part of the heavy fighting in Nasiriyah. But a wrong turn led her convoy into an ambush - eleven were killed, six were taken prisoner.
Percy Piestewa says, "We called to ask if Lori had been captured, and she hadn't been, so we thought, things were cool. So we all went home."
"There was always hope, too," Wayland adds. "If there was a chance, if there was any chance, she would have found a way to survive."
Piestewa was a hero. She raced her Humvee out of the entrapped convoy, but chose to return with her sergeant to help rescue others.
She was driving and actually could have gotten out at one point. As her mother wipes her eyes, she says, "Someone said, 'Here you want to get out? I'll drive,' and she said, 'No.' I'm getting choked up talking about it."
Wayland says, "She wouldn't give up her post. She wouldn't have opted out for the easy way."
She went back for her comrades, among them, Pfc. Jessica Lynch.
Percy says, "Jessica especially, because they were very close. And she was close to her sergeant, so that was her family that she going back out to protect."
At her homecoming, Lynch said, "Most of all I miss Lori Piestewa. She was my best friend. She fought beside me and it was an honor to have served with her."
It was from Jessica Lynch that Lori's parents learned about their daughter's final moments.
Percy says, "The vehicle in front of them jackknifed and they couldn't stop soon enough."
Terry Piestewa, Lori's father, says, "Well her Humvee was hit by mortar rocket because Jessica said to us,'When we saw her, she saw the rocket coming.'"
As he breaks down crying, he says, "For us, we're hoping that Lori didn't feel the pain. Cause I worried about that a lot, that she's feeling that pain. I was just hoping that we, in some way, could take that pain for her, if she did."
There has been a tremendous outpouring of support for the Piestewa family. Lori left behind two children, five and three years old.
Percy says the kids are doing OK. "They ask. They ask. The baby's missing her mom." She says she tells them, "When it's our time, we'll be able to go up to heaven and see mom."
With a chuckle Terry notes that his granddaughter says to his wife, "Grandma, mom's been up in heaven too long, its time for her to come home."
That they can now laugh is testament to the healing they've experienced.
Asked if they were angry at the the commander for sending the convoy on the wrong road, Percy wipes her eyes and says, "I've heard that Capt. King is getting a lot of bad things being said about him, but you know, you can't blame one person."
She adds, "Sure, they may say it was human error. But God had a hand in it, one way or another. And we can't judge. We're not put on this earth to judge any mistakes anybody makes."
Instead, they focus on the presence of their daughter that they feel all around them.
Percy says, "We figure she's there, looking out for us.
Wayland adds says, "We're going to miss her for a long time. Every day, we think about her, every single day, maybe every single hour. But I know she's there. She's keeping an eye on us."
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