When PFC Lori Piestewa was in Iraq, she told her roommate and best friend, PFC Jessica Lynch, that her dream was to return to her home in Tuba City, Arizona and build her parents a house to which they could retire. But in March 2003, Lori lost her life, becoming the first American woman killed in the Iraq war. Lori died while trying to save the lives of her friends, Jessica Lynch and Shoshannah Johnson, as she navigated her Humvee through gunfire and debris when it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The design team from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and homebuilder Shea Homes help restore Lori’s dream by building her surviving family a new house in just seven days in Flagstaff, Arizona, on land donated by the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
In addition to the building of the new home in Flagstaff, the design team, workers and volunteers from Extreme Makeover: Home Edition will also be building simultaneously a Veteran’s Memorial Center on the Navajo Reservation in Tuba City, on land belonging to the Navajo Nation. The building will be the first of its kind and is for Native Americans who served in the armed services. Dozens of Navajo and Hopi military veterans attended the center’s dedication festivities. Lori was the daughter of a Vietnam veteran and the granddaughter of a World War II veteran.
Lori is also believed to be the first Native American woman to die in a foreign war. She was a true warrior spirit who fought and died for her country. The 23-year-old divorced mother left behind two young children, Brandon and Carla Whiterock, who are six and five years old, respectively, and are being cared for by Lori’s parents, Percy and Terry Piestewa. Currently the family lives in a rented 1200 square-foot mobile home on a reservation in Tuba City, Arizona.
Percy, a junior high school administrative assistant and his wife, Terry, who works as a maintenance worker at the same junior high school, would like to move to Flagstaff, where they can be closer to family. Now, with help from neighboring tribes, as well as the EM:HE design team, the Piestewas will be able to raise their grandchildren in a new home. They will also have a proper place to put all of the many mementos that they’ve received from people all over the world who wanted to honor their fallen heroine daughter.
Lori has received many posthumous honors, including being promoted from Private First Class to Specialist First Class by the U.S. Army. Last Memorial Day she was remembered with rose petals in a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, and she was honored on September 21, 2004 at the opening ceremony of the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC.
Jessica Lynch will be on board for the build. In 2003, the nation was captivated by the story of POWs Lynch and Johnson, and how Lori Piestewa lost her life trying to save them. Of her beloved friend, Jessica said: “We were not similar in size, frame, race, religion or origin, but in our friendship, only one heart existed with two people connected.”
While the building takes place, Terry and Percy Piestewa and the grandchildren will be on vacation at Walt Disney World. Upon their return to their new 4336-square-foot home, over 3500 relatives, friends and members from the Native American community cheered for the family at the reveal.