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TUBA CITY, Ariz. (AP) -- News of the death of the first American woman soldier killed in the Iraq war hit hard in this community on the Navajo Reservation, not far from Hopi land.
The Pentagon identified Pfc. Lori Ann Piestewa, one of the few American Indian women in the military, as one of eight soldiers found dead during the rescue of POW Jessica Lynch.
"Our family is proud of her. She is our hero," her brother Wayland said to reporters outside the family's home Saturday. "We are going to hold that in our hearts. She will not be forgotten. It gives us comfort to know that she is at peace right now."
Piestewa, 23, was the mother of a 4-year-old boy and a 3-year-old girl and a source of pride in her Hopi community.
Her brother said relatives didn't wish to speak further with reporters for now.
Behind him, family members and friends gathered on the porch of the family's trailer. A low chain-link fence was adorned with yellow ribbons, a red-white-and-blue heart and a sign with a picture of Lori Piestewa, the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center towers.
"The tragedy has rocked the very foundation of the Hopi reservation since many of us have been continually praying with the Piestewa family for Lori's safe return," Hopi Tribal Chairman Wayne Taylor.
Many of Tuba City's 8,200 residents have left yellow balloons and signs with uplifting messages outside her parents' home, and officials from the Navajo and Hopi tribes have attended prayer services in honor of her and other military personnel. Hopi officials said that 56 Hopis are currently serving in the U.S. military, 48 of them in Iraq.
The bodies of Piestewa and the seven other soldiers were found when U.S. troops raided the hospital where Pfc. Jessica Lynch was being held captive, the Pentagon said.
Seven were members of Lynch's unit, the Fort Bliss, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company, which was ambushed near Nasiriyah on March 23. The other, Sgt. George E. Buggs, 31, of Barnwell, S.C., was a member of the 3rd Division Support Battalion of Fort Stewart, Ga.
"We hate it, but there ain't nothing we can do about it," Buggs' grandfather, George Buggs, 83, said Saturday after learning of his grandson's death. The retired truck driver and his wife had raised the soldier.
The others were identified as Master Sgt. Robert J. Dowdy, 38, of Cleveland; Pvt. Ruben Estrella-Soto, 18, of El Paso, Texas; Spc. James M. Kiehl, 22, of Comfort, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Villareal Mata, 35, of Amarillo, Texas; Pvt. Brandon U. Sloan, 19, of Cleveland, and Sgt. Donald R. Walters, 33, of Kansas City, Mo.
A chaplain informed Kiehl's parents of their son's death Friday evening.
"We just want everyone to know we support the president and the troops, and we believe in what James went over there for," his mother, Janie Kiehl said in a telephone interview Friday night.
Kiehl's pregnant wife, Jill, in Des Moines, Iowa, has declined to talk to the media.
Walters' younger sister, Kimberly Cieslak, said the family received the news from the Oregon National Guard on Friday. Their father is an Air Force veteran, and Walters had been surrounded by the military while growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"I guess he was following in my footsteps," said his father, Norman Walters. "He was a patriotic guy. He felt it was his duty to serve his country."
The Pentagon announcement reached the Ohio home of the Rev. Tandy Sloan a few hours after 200 worshippers gathered to light candles and pray for his son and for Dowdy, also from Ohio. Sloan's father declined to comment Saturday.
"The entire Fort Bliss community expresses their heartfelt condolences to all the families during their time of sorrow," Fort Bliss spokeswoman Jean Offutt said in a statement from the base.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)