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Saturday, May 24

Emotional reunion for Piestewa, Lynch families

By Billy House | Arizona Republic

WASHINGTON - In a bittersweet and intensely private reunion, Pfc. Jessica Lynch was visited Saturday by the mother, father, and two young children of her fallen friend and comrade, Army Spc. Lori Piestewa.

``They were very close,'' said Lori's mother, Priscilla Piestewa, in a short interview following the two-hour morning visit with Lynch at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where Lynch is undergoing treatment and rehabilitation.

``I'm just glad Jessica is doing very well,'' Piestewa said.

``We're very proud of her,'' she added.

Also visiting Lynch was Piestewa's father, Terry, and Lori's two young children, Brandon, who'll be age 5 on Memorial Day - and Carla, 3.

Lynch's parents, Deadra and Gregory Lynch, were also on hand.

Priscilla Piestewa declined to talk about details of the family's emotional discussions with Lynch.

But she noted the last time they had seen Jessica was on February 17, 2003 - deployment day to Iraq for the two women soldiers and the rest of their 507th Maintenance Company of Fort Bliss, Texas.

Piestewa, 23, a Hopi Indian from Tuba City, Ariz., and Lynch, 19, of Palestine, W. Va., have become perhaps the two most recognizable soldiers of Operation Iraqi Freedom. The two women also happened to have been roommates and friends for the more than 1 1/2 years they had known each other.

In fact, the Piestewa family was at Fort Bliss that day - not just to see Lori off to Iraq, but also to say goodbye to Jessica. Lori's family, too, had come to know and like Lynch

during their several visits to Fort Bliss to see Lori.

Like others in their unit that day, the two women soldiers checked equipment and smiled for family pictures.

There was no way of knowing then that Lynch would be returned to the U.S., severely injured but with near folk-hero status following her capture by Iraqis in an ambush of the 507th and subsequent rescue by an allied special operation team.

So, too, was there no way of knowing that Piestewa would not return alive. But she, too, has attained near folk-hero status - not just as the only woman killed in Operation

Iraqi Freedom, but she is believed to be the only Native American woman ever killed in combat in the U.S. military.

The Pentagon is expected to release a report soon on what exactly happened to the 507th unit on March 23, the day Lynch was captured and Piestewa and eight other members of their unit were killed in that ambush in the southern Iraq riverfront city of Nasiriyah.

Government officials say that report may detail the activities of individual members of the unit during the battle, including those of Piestewa and Lynch.

Lynch, who has suffered severe bone fractures and is said to have no memories of the attack, has undergone surgeries and is now undergoing physical therapy to help her walk. Her medical team has said her injuries are healing at a satisfactory rate.

And Priscilla Piestewa, following the visit Saturday, said she believes Lynch is, in fact, doing well. She said the time spent with her ``was awesome.''

But when then asked whether Lynch spoke to her about her Lori, Piestewa grew somber.

``No, I won't go there,'' she responded.

``Private stuff. Private stuff. I won't even go there.''

The Piestewa family is at the nation's capital this Memorial Day weekend for a series of events and ceremonies honoring the fallen Hopi soldier - including a visit Memorial Day morning at the White House with President Bush and first lady Laura Bush, which Sen. John McCain's office helped to arrange.