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Tuesday, July 22

Piestewa's brother remembers his lost sister

By Kristen Go | The Arizona Republic

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - The shiny watch made it back from Iraq, but Wayland Piestewa's sister, Lori, did not.

Wayland pulled the watch from his pocket and showed it to a group of 50 high school journalism students - the first time he has shown it to anyone outside his family.

For the students, who came from throughout Arizona on Monday to learn the basics of covering a news conference, it was the scoop of a lifetime.

For the closely guarded Piestewa, it was a chance to talk about the way the media covered the death of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, and how it affected him.

The watch was all the more poignant because in Hopi culture, relatives typically don't keep items that belonged to the dead. Piestewa said that to him, the timepiece represented perspective. He doesn't know the journey the watch took to make it to Iraq and back home, just as he doesn't know which scenario leading to his sister's death is true.

"You can't really judge everything from what you see," he said.

He added that despite the scrutiny being given to weapons of mass destruction and the Army's release of information about his sister's convoy, "What's happened has happened. The unfortunate incident that led to my sister's death, we believe, was in the plan. Her situation may uncover more situations."

Lori Piestewa died when her convoy was ambushed after taking a wrong turn in southern Iraq. Piestewa, who was part Hopi, is the first Native American woman killed in combat. One of the survivors of the ambush, Pfc. Jessica Lynch, was captured and then liberated several weeks later - and returned to her West Virginia home on Tuesday - but controversy has surrounded the conflicting official versions of her rescue.

Rosanda Suetopka-Thayer, who acted as the Piestewa family liaison to the media during the ordeal, also spoke to the class. She told the students, "It is really unfortunate that she had to sacrifice herself for something that could have totally been unnecessary."

Both Wayland and Suetopka-Thayer said they had mixed emotions about the media converging on the family's hometown of Tuba City, Ariz. Suetopka-Thayer said at one point there were 300 media inquiries a day.

Both said they felt a little uneasy about all of the attention Piestewa received, especially since Piestewa was not the only member of the military killed. Eleven Americans, including Piestewa, died in the ambush on her convoy; more than 150 in all have died in the Iraq conflict.

Lori has been described as a hero and Squaw Peak in Phoenix has been renamed in her honor.

"When I said she was a hero, I didn't realize the effect it would have on the nation and worldwide," Wayland said. "She was a hero to us long before she had to partake in the military."