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Wednesday, November 12

Piestewa went to war for Lynch, book says

By Mark Shaffer | The Arizona Republic

Lori Piestewa had medical clearance to stay home from Iraq because of a shoulder injury but chose to deploy because of her deep friendship with rescued POW Pfc. Jessica Lynch, according to a book about Lynch released this week.

In the book, "I Am a Soldier, Too: The Jessica Lynch Story," Lynch describes how Army Spc. Piestewa, the only Native American woman to die in combat on foreign soil, tried to drive a Humvee through a combat zone in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah. The book was written by former New York Times reporter Rick Bragg.

The 507th Maintenance Company, which had taken a wrong turn into Nasiriyah during the wee hours of March 23, was ambushed by the enemy and cut into three sections. Piestewa and Lynch were in the back of the column amid slow, and some disabled, heavy trucks.

Lynch said that Piestewa was "grim, focused, almost calm" as panic broke out inside the Humvee. As Piestewa maneuvered around firing Iraqi soldiers, debris and dead vehicles, Lynch said, every munitions round seemed to miss or fall off after striking the vehicle.

"Jessi remembers looking at her best friend and thinking how wrong it was that Lori was there, in a place where bullets flew past her head," Bragg wrote. "She swore that she could see it, could see one round fly past her friend's helmet and clean through the Humvee."

Left to her own designs, Piestewa could have made it out of the combat zone, Lynch believes.

"(But they were ordered to drive) through the chaos of the battle ... Once, twice, Piestewa circled around to crippled vehicles so that they could try to give aid or just give orders, but it was hopeless," Bragg wrote.

The end came when the Humvee was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, seriously wounding Piestewa in the head. The Humvee ran off the road and slammed into a 5-ton tractor-trailer, killing three other soldiers in the vehicle.

It was nearly three hours before Piestewa and Lynch were taken to the local army hospital by Iraqi troops. Piestewa died shortly after arrival. Lynch said she was unconscious for about three hours before arriving at the same hospital. She said she never saw Piestewa after the Humvee crash.

Lynch, however, said thoughts of Piestewa helped keep her alive as she drifted in and out of consciousness in the Iraqi hospital before she was rescued by U.S. soldiers 10 days later.

"Some days, she said, it had really seemed like Lori was sitting on the edge of the bed," Bragg wrote.

When Lynch was flown back to Germany, she repeatedly asked what had happened to Piestewa and whether she could speak with her.

"But no one would tell her anything - and she knew then that Lori was probably dead," Bragg wrote.

Lynch detailed how she and Piestewa, known to everyone in her company as "Pi," became best friends when they roomed together at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas.

Piestewa had married and had two children shortly after graduating from Tuba City (Ariz.) High School and Lynch taught her "how to be a girl again," said Piestewa's mother, Percy Piestewa. "They were inseparable."

While the convoy was heading north into Iraq, Lynch said, the truck she was riding in broke down and that Piestewa stopped her vehicle and said, "Get in, Roomie." They stayed together until that fateful morning in Nasiriyah.

Lynch told Bragg that "I'd give $400 billion ... I'd give anything" if she could go into a time machine and persuade Piestewa not to go to war.