What Memorial Day means to me

Brandon Piestewa with his mother when he was young.

*Editor’s Note: The “Views from NAU” blog series highlights the thoughts of different people affiliated with NAU, including faculty members sharing opinions or research in their areas of expertise. The views expressed reflect the authors’ own personal perspectives.

By Brandon Piestewa

Academic program coordinator, Veteran and Military Services

Piestewa is a coordinator in NAU’s Veteran and Military Services (VMS) and is a member of the Hopi and Navajo tribes as well as having Mexican ancestry. His mother, Lori Piestewa, was in the Army and was one of the first to go into Iraq in 2003.

Shí éí Brandon Piestewa yinishyé

Nakaii nishłį́
Naaneesht’ézhí Tachii’nii bashishchiin Shash dashicheii
Tábąąhí dashinalí

Hi, my name is Brandon Piestewa. My mother is from the Mexican clan. My father is born of the charcoal streak red running into the water people. My maternal father is Bear clan. And my paternal father is edge water people.

While some may perceive this day as a holiday, offering a break from work or school, I as a military dependent perceive Memorial Day not just as a holiday but also as a deeply personal day of remembrance and respect for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. From my personal perspective, I experience it as missing parental involvement during crucial life milestones, such as sporting events or graduation ceremonies. The Iraq War tragically claimed the lives of approximately 4,500 U.S. troops, leaving over 3,000 children bereft of a parent. Consequently, many of us have experienced a loss in some shape or form. 

I became deeply entrenched in the military-connected community at a young age due to the sacrifice my mother made while serving. The 507th Maintenance Company, a unit of the United States Army, was among the initial forces deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. They encountered an ambush during the Battle of Nasiriyah, resulting in casualties and prisoners of war, including 11 soldiers killed and seven taken captive. Notably, one of the prisoners was my mother.  

Learn more about Lori Piestewa.

This profound event altered the course of my life, leading me to embrace a lifestyle intertwined with military experiences. It caused me to grow up faster than most kids and learn that life is not fair when it comes to the freedom we have in our country. Our family was recognized for her sacrifice, but despite the nationwide recognition, navigating the aftermath proved challenging. Attending numerous recognition events served as a constant reminder of the tragic loss I endured, and that didn’t seem fair.  

With maturity, I realized the global impact my mother’s sacrifice made on the country and on Native American communities, to which my mother belonged. As a result, I understood my role, which involved preserving my mother’s legacy. My purpose became clear: to honor her memory by raising awareness of her sacrifice and those of other service members who have been in the same situation. Through sharing my experiences of coping with loss, depression, trauma and longing, I aim to offer support and guidance to those navigating similar journeys and advocating for military-dependent children facing similar challenges. 

As we approach the upcoming long weekend, it’s essential to pause our busy schedules and dedicate a moment to solemn reflection. Let us honor the sacrifices made by our service members by sharing with friends or loved ones stories of those who bravely served. By recounting their valorous deeds, we ensure their memory endures, forever etched in our collective consciousness. Let us pledge to preserve their legacy, acknowledging the heroic contributions that have safeguarded our cherished freedoms.  

NAU Communications