Matt York  /  AP
A portrait of Army Spc. Lori Piestewa hangs in the background, as her mother, Percy Piestewa and former POW Jessica Lynch look on.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 3/23/2005 5:17:16 PM ET 2005-03-23T22:17:16

As the sun crept over a saguaro and wildflower-studded mountain named after best friend and fallen comrade, Army Spc. Lori Piestewa, former POW Jessica Lynch was awarded a warriors medal of valor.

Lynch was given the award Wednesday as part of a ceremony to honor Piestewa and mark the two-year anniversary of the ambush of their unit in southern Iraq.

"She was a very strong-minded woman," said Lynch, a former Army supply clerk from West Virginia. "Her strength rubbed off on me."

Lynch and Piestewa served together in the 507th Maintenance Company from Fort Bliss, Texas. They were roommates there and tentmates in Iraq. Piestewa died and Lynch was captured when their unit was ambushed March 23, 2003, near Nasiriyah.

When the details of the ambush were recalled during the ceremony, Lynch shook her head.

"It is hard because I think back _ it reminds me of my last days with Lori," Lynch told The Associated Press following the ceremony.

Piestewa, a member of the Hopi Tribe and a single mother of two, is believed to be the first American Indian woman killed while fighting for the U.S. military. She was 23.

Lynch said that if it weren't for Piestewa she wouldn't have survived.

"She taught me to be an individual, to never give up. I believe that the help from her is why I am alive today," Lynch said.

Hundreds attended the ceremony and commended the women's bravery, including members of area churches, American Indian officials and politicians. A member of the Havasupai-Grand Canyon tribe used feathers to send sage smoke through the crowd while members of the Sioux tribe sang to the rhythm of a beating drum.

Later, Lori's dad, Terry Piestewa, brushed tears from his eyes when mariachis dedicated a song to Lynch.

Lynch, now 21, walks with a cane and is still recovering from injuries that included two spinal fractures, nerve damage and a shattered right arm, right foot and left leg.

Soldiers rescued Lynch on April 1, 2003; the videotaped rescue made her an international celebrity. With proceeds from a book deal, Lynch created a foundation to help Piestewa's children.

"We were so close that we felt like we were family," Lynch said about Piestewa. "We were completely different, but at the same time the difference is why we got along so well."

Piestewa's children, 6-year-Brandon and 5-year-old Carla, led the Pledge of Allegiance during the ceremony.

Lynch said she made her first trip to Arizona this week to visit the her friend's home on the Navajo reservation and to comfort the family that always treated her like a daughter.

Lynch spent Tuesday with the family shopping for jewelry, playing with Lori's children, and privately visiting Piestewa Peak.

Lynch is scheduled to visit Piestewa's hometown of Tuba City on Thursday and visit her grave on the Hopi reservation in northern Arizona.

Terry Piestewa expects the visit to his daughter's grave to be especially difficult for Lynch.

"We know she was blaming herself for what happened," he said. "She was blaming herself that she didn't bring Lori home."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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