The Lady Speaks

Jenn’s Sunday Sermon

My part of today’s sermon is short: Bring our troops home now. No more fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, sisters and brothers should endure the hell that is encompassing a family in my area.

My prayer today comes from the heart: No more. Dear God, please, no more.

The first soldier from our county to die in Iraq was SPC Oliver Brown, a 19-year-old schoolmate of my oldest son’s. CWO John Priestner was the second Bradford County casualty.

Both are heroes because they did the job asked of them and died doing that job. But George W. Bush and his incompetent administration should be held account for every single death, American and Iraqi, caused by their lies and their piss-poor planning and their arrogance.

I went to school with John; he graduated four years ahead of me, and was my first big crush. Ours was a small school district with about 1200 kids, give or take a dozen, in grades K-12. Two buildings, elementary and Jr/Sr High. You got to know everyone in the building, not just in your grade. You weren’t friends with all of them, but you knew them on sight. In most cases, you knew their parents and their siblings as well. Close-knit, is how it’s always described, and it is.

And it was again yesterday, at the memorial service for John Priestner as family, friends, and alumni gathered to remember one of their own.

From Nancy Coleman in the Towanda (PA) Daily Review:

LERAYSVILLE (PA) — Day after day after day, it was the same.

Years ago, inside a farmhouse in a valley near LeRaysville, little John Priestner and his brother, Roger, got up. Soon a big yellow school bus roared up the road — the bus with “Northeast Bradford” and “18” on the side — winking yellow and red, and stopped. The boys climbed on. It carried them up a hill and through the countryside, then pulled into the half-circle driveway at the school.

The freckled little boys and other kids thump-thumped down the bus steps, up the wide front sidewalk and toward the glass doors. Perhaps … no, we’ll say probably … some days a knit cap was grabbed and tossed, or little feet scuffed tracks into snow or morning dew, or the walls rang with kids’ shouts and laughs.

They marched past those walls of stone and yellow brick, past the white “1970” sign on a front wall. Past the black “Northeast Bradford Elementary School” words above. Past the flagpole. …

Saturday afternoon, the U.S. flag on that pole was at half-staff.

A memorial service was going on inside Northeast Elementary for John R. Priestner. John died serving that flag. And this afternoon, perhaps it was fitting that people had gathered in the same school where John began learning and growing and living his life, to mourn and remember and honor him after his death.

CW4 John Priestner died Nov. 6, 2006, in a helicopter crash in Iraq. A pilot with Company A, 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, he was in an AH-64D aircraft at the time.

Born in New Jersey, John grew up near LeRaysville and graduated from Northeast in 1982. He attended Keystone College, enlisted in the Air Force and later, the Army. Before Iraq, he served in Operation Desert Storm and Afghanistan.

John also had worked for Procter and Gamble and currently was living in Sanford, N.C., with his wife, Teresa Lutz Priestner, and daughters, Breanne, 14, and Megan, 10. Teresa’s also a Northeast graduate.

Guests packed the elementary school’s auditorium. In the middle of the stage, a wooden box displayed John’s flag casket and awards. “When loved ones become memories the memories become treasures,” read words written on a decorative stone. Two floral arrangements stood nearby, including red roses, white carnations and small, blue flowers. Dark ribbons around each bouquet read: “Our hero.”

And then there were photos. Hundreds of photos. Smaller photos on boards, larger framed photos on the stage. … John and Roger as tiny babies, in their parents’ arms. John and Roger as little tots, holding puppies. Young John in a cowboy hat. John in high school. John in a tux, a flower on his coat and his bride on his arm. John in a formal service photo, a flag behind him. John, Teresa and a young daughter in an Army plane. John and his collies. John and the girls in a swimming pool.

“I was in Afghanistan with John,” Kurt Etter explained, as he sat a couple of rows up, behind men wearing VFW caps. “We were pretty good friends.” John had been a pilot, Kurt his crew chief.

“He was an honest, really good friend.”

Kurt used to hang out at John’s house, shooting pool or playing darts. Today, he lives in Hornell, N.Y. He drove more than 100 miles to be here.

During the program, under soft lights, relatives and close friends spoke of John.

At the podium, Teresa explained her husband had been buried in Arlington National Cemetery. With country singer Toby Keith’s “Arlington” [It’s actually sung by Trace Adkins — Jenn] and other music accompanying, she showed slides of that service.

As Teresa sat with her arms around Breanne and Megan, the song played. “They gave me this plot of land, me and some other men … I’m on sacred ground and I’m in the best of company,” the voice sang. “I made it to Arlington.”

John had earlier requested to be buried in Arlington.

Shot on a rainy, gray day at the cemetery, photos showed the entrance, the chapel, two helicopters flying over, headstones. Soldiers carrying John’s flag-covered casket.

Roger, John’s fraternal twin, spoke of his brother, sometimes needing to pause between words.

The two had been in the original first-grade class at Northeast, he said. He’d heard many speak of his brother’s “loyalty, his sense of commitment, camaraderie and his can-do attitude.” The seeds of those traits were sown in their home, then cultivated by the community and their 4-H club, Roger said.

“In a very real sense … in a very real sense John was an Army of one,” before that was a slogan, he said. Family members laughed.

But John was playful, too. He sometimes teased Teresa, Roger revealed. “Teresa would go over there, give him a big hug and a kiss.” Clowning, John would act as if she’d passed on a terrible illness.

John often flew air-support missions for troops under fire. “His personal mission was as many as possible would come home alive.” Roger said. He choked up.

He never though he’d deliver his brother’s eulogy, Roger said — at age 42.

“I never thought I’d be the brother of a war hero … but I am.”

Close friend and classmate Glenn Pitcher shared humorous stories of John. “Parents are going to learn some new stuff about John!” he informed all.

Like the time John ate Glenn’s mother’s “scalloped critter” then asked “What is this?” They told him. He got sick.

Like the time, on the senior trip, he and John ended up in a holding cell. (No further explanation was offered.)

Like the time Glenn and, this time, Roger ended up in another holding cell, at the Six Flags park (firecrackers thrown from a skyride) and John, when he showed up, snooped through the security guards’ desk drawers.

Like the time there was an Ozzy Osborne rock concert (At this point, Roger started laughing) and they skipped school … and went hunting … and someone yelled “Woodchuck!” And John fell out the back.

John had a “passion for the hunt,” Glenn said.

John’s family will receive a memorial quilt. On that quilt, Glenn said, he wrote: “A friend in life, a friend for life and always.” He said he also could have written John had “a passion in life, a passion for life, a passion always.”

“I miss you,” Glenn ended.

John’s younger daughter, Megan, shared memories, too. Chatting eagerly, she told of her dad and his boat and his Web cam. Her dad helping her with math, dumping her and a friend off a tube while boating, dumping her MOM off a tube while boating, saying “Nope,” saying “Blahblah” …

“He was a hero,” Megan said. “I really loved him. He was really funny!”

John’s young niece Gracie Lutz performed a song for Teresa and her daughters. “I will be your candle on the water, my love for you will always burn,” she sang. “I’ll never let you go.”

Frank Zuckerman of Towanda said the families had met when their children attended St. Agnes School. “He was a best friend, he was a son, a husband and a father,” Frank said. If we remember John for just one moment each day, he suggested, he’ll never be forgotten.

To conclude, Linnea Priestner, John’s mother, took the podium.

“He wasn’t the brightest child in school, he wasn’t the most obedient,” she admitted. “But he had a passion. … He achieved his goals.”

She added: “This is my mission — traditional family values and that our children develop a dream.”

After the service, friends and family mingled.

Richard Priestner, John’s father, was pleased with the community’s support and proud of Roger’s part in the service. And John — “he was so loyal.”

Bill Gallagher, who grew up near the Priestners, remembered playing football with them and another neighbor, Dan MacNamera. The four rough-housed so hard they sometimes ripped each other’s sweatshirts. “Never wore a sweatshirt after that!”

Jacob Lutz, 6, remembered his “Uncle Hawk.” “He was a good man,” he stated in his light voice.
“He was a hero.”

“He was just always happy, always smiling,” classmate Roberta Cook Seeley said, as she stood with friends in the lobby. Suzanne Bryan Townsend remembered John’s smile — and eyes. For Terri Jagger, the memory’s of John playing basketball with classmate Keith Bonin.

Theresa Edsell Krymowski heard the “Arlington” song one day on the radio, she said. She had to turn it off. “I lost it.”

On a table near the women stand photo boards. In the center of one hangs a shot of John in his green dress uniform — four gold buttons down the middle, “Priestner” tag on one side, ribbons on the other. John stands straight and serious. And without a doubt, proud.

Outside, the sun shines on the sidewalk, circular driveway, brick walls. And the lowered flag.

“It was beautiful,” Teresa, wearing a U.S. flag pin and U.S. flag necklace, said of the service. “It was good for John. It was all about John. That’s what I wanted. …

“He is a true American hero.”


November 26, 2006 - Posted by | America, Bush, Children, Family, Government, Iraq, Pennsylvania, US Military, War


  1. I don’t think we should be making John’s death a political statement. Let’s continue to honor his heroism and support his entire family!

    Comment by Mike Drag | November 27, 2006 | Reply

  2. Mike: How is it political to say “Bring them home now”? How is it political to pray “No more.”? I honor John’s memory and his dedication and his heroism. I will continue to support his family in whatever small way I can.

    But I cannot, and I will not, believe that honoring him and supporting them means I can’t criticize the people who sent him and his fellow soldiers into war – against a country that was no threat to us – by using lies and fear tactics. I doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the people who failed to properly arm and equip our soldiers. It doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the people who cut funding to the Veterans Administration, the very agency tasked with healing and supporting our wounded soldiers.

    And, it sure as hell doesn’t mean I can’t criticize the people who continue to believe that all is well in Iraq, even as hundreds are dying each week in an undeclared civil war.

    Comment by PA_Lady | November 28, 2006 | Reply

  3. You can criticize whomever you want. It just sounded like you used his death to start off on a political statement about the current administration in the very next sentence after honoring his and SPC Oliver Brown’s heroism. I just don’t think any of us family are ready for that just yet; especially his girls who read this stuff every day.

    Thanks and good luck with your blog.

    Comment by Mike Drag | November 29, 2006 | Reply

  4. Re-reading the post, I see what you mean. Although I make a whole lot of political statements, this post wasn’t meant to be one. It was just my anger at this war taking someone I knew. (even if it was just in passing) My apologies.

    Hail dear Northeast…

    Comment by PA_Lady | November 29, 2006 | Reply

  5. I’m glad to see that you agree with Mike. I was a friend of John’s at Northeast. I also am a Veteran. While I didn’t see as much action as John, I wished I could have served with him. After his death, nothing riled me more than people using his death in numbers of ones killed in Iraq as a reason to end the war.
    What I remember of John was his passion. He would not have re-upped in the army if he didn’t believe in what he was doing. Maybe you don’t agree with the war, but he did. And what you and all the other’s using this to oppose the war, don’t realize is how much this hurts the troops. Not to mention the families.
    I was involved in some action during my time in and nothing hurt more than the bad press that was distributed at the time. There was more good than bad, so that helped, but we were out there fighting for our country and there were some who didn’t want us fighting. That’s like saving a girl from being raped only to have her slap you across the face for doing it.
    With today’s military being all volunteer, you can’t say that these soldiers are being sent over there against their will. They signed up for it. They signed up because they believe in it. Whether we do or not.

    Comment by Corky Wheaton | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  6. I’m not sure how to put this without offending, but I’m going to try –

    Let me start by saying, I have nothing but the highest respect and admiration for those who serve – past, present, and future.

    But, I have nothing but contempt for those who willingly put them in harm’s way without a plan, without proper preparation and equipment, and then cut the funding to the very agency tasked with helping our wounded veterans – among other criminal or near-criminal acts the present misadministration has perpetrated.

    To me, this war is the equivalent of a chief ordering firefighters into a fully-engulfed and collapsing building to save a child or group of children, but not allowing them to wear bunker gear or use SCBAs and hoses.

    The firefighters are going to do it. They’re willing to risk their lives, regardless of the decisions made by the chief. But some of them aren’t going to come out of that building, and some of them are going to be grievously wounded, and some of them are going to rescue some of the children and come out seemingly unscathed, but will be traumatized because they weren’t able to save everyone.

    And the chief should be held accountable for denying them the proper equipment, and not having a proper plan to do the job.

    I do have a question. What exactly constitutes bad press? When they report abuses like Abu Ghraib? When they say the troops are dying because of lies told by the administration? When they say our troops need to come home because Iraq is in a civil war?

    If the press is only supposed to report the good news and ignore the bad, how does that make it any different from the Soviet propaganda machine that we railed against for so long?

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  7. You talk about not having them being sent in with the wrong equiment, that is unfair. New breakthroughs in technology are happening all the time. And just because something new is developed, it does take time to implement it. When I was in the navy, I worked on 30 year old planes. Planes that many would think obsolete. Yet these 30 year old planes could deliver more payload than any similiarly sized plane today and they could withstand multiple hits and still get their crew home. There were newer planes out there, but they were untried. Just because there were newer planes out there should we have just scrapped our planes and use all the new ones, not totaly sure that they would accomplish the mission? And at millions of dollars per plane, would that be a good use of the government’s money? Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen alike would love to have the latest and greatest. They would love to have force fields around them stop any bullet. They would love to have x-ray vision to see what the enemy is going to do. But you and I could never afford it. Think of your own computer, can you keep up with the latest technology. Can you afford to upgrade to every new CPU when it comes out.

    That said, I know first hand about much of the technology that they use out there and I can tell you they are now and always have been very well armed. Asking why they didn’t have the correct armor is like asking why they didn’t have it during Vietnam. The soldier is taught to fight with what is at hand. (“Improvise, Adapt, Overcome” to quote Roger) They will get the job done with what they have.

    This last year, the country told the president what they thought. Maybe he was wrong, but bringing the soldiers home without a plan is irresponsible and continously complaining about it is extremely harmful to the moral. (just keep slapping that guy)

    You asked about bad press, some of what you mentioned, is news, not necessarily bad press. But is it more important to get that news out regardless what the outcome is, or would it better to sit on the story until all the facts come out. Too many times the press is to quick to slam the unpopular war instead of looking at some of the good that is being done.

    You are a protester so I don’t expect you to understand, but what do you think those soldiers feel when they watch the protests on international TV. They aren’t thinking these people want us to come home, they are thinking that they are fighting for a country who does not want them. You can justify it any way you want, but unless you are there, you could never understand. As was reported on NBC news the other day by a soldier on the front line, “You cann’t say you support the troops and not the war that they fight. You cann’t have it both ways.”

    Do I question your patriotism, no. Do I question whether you want the troops to come home, no. But be careful what you write as the soldier who fights for you, may not see it the same way you do. And while you think about whether you would take a bullet for someone who may not feel the same way you do, remember that he would with out thinking about it.

    Comment by Corky Wheaton | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  8. I’m not talking about the use of new technology. I’m talking about things like protecting all of our soldiers with up-armored vehicles. Making sure our troops’ families don’t have to raise money to buy body armor or specialized helmets (liners?) that minimize brain injury. Making sure our wounded men and women get the best, fastest medical care even after they’re stateside and not allowing a despondent young man to kill himself because he’s 26th in line and there’s no beds.

    How exactly have our troops made a difference in Iraq thus far? I agree that a quick pull-out is likely to have serious consequences, but we’ve already seen the consequences of our continued presence – 80% of Iraqis want us out of their country. And they’re using whatever means necessary to ensure it happens. Even setting benchmarks isn’t going to work – look at what happened with the Iraqi constitution and the ‘purple fingers’ benchmarks.

    The hard thing is, there are things that could have been done to undermine the insurgency from the beginning, but the military either wasn’t allowed or wasn’t interested in dealing with them. Then their hands were further tied by the fools running the Coalition Provisional Authority, which managed to lose billions while doing nothing.

    “Winning hearts and minds” is more than just a phrase. Had this occupation actually improved the lives of Iraqis – running water, 24/7 electricity, employment opportunities, etc. – there might have been a chance to make this work. Now, whatever we do is simply too little, too late.

    And the only ones ‘winning’ at this point are the stockholders of Halliburton, KBR, Blackwater, etc. They’re making money hand over fist. Oh, and the oil companies, naturally.

    As for news, while there might be schools are being painted and roads being paved and smiling children being given candy, there is electricity for only a few hours a day. Thousands are dying each month because of suicide bombers and militias and for having the wrong name in the wrong neighborhood or for being too educated or for not praying properly.

    If scores of Americans were being blown up across the US, day after day after day, and bodies were being found with signs of torture day after day after day across DC, wouldn’t you want the press to report it? Or would you rather they only reported on the one school built in, say, Seattle?

    The war is unpopular. Do you want the press to lie and say it isn’t?

    But be careful what you write as the soldier who fights for you, may not see it the same way you do.

    Considering that only one-third of US troops in Iraq agree with and/or support the President (according to a recent Military Times poll) I think far more soldiers are understanding of my position than you believe.

    And while you think about whether you would take a bullet for someone who may not feel the same way you do, remember that he would with out thinking about it.

    And that, in a nutshell, is why our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines deserve our utmost respect and deepest gratitude.

    And they deserve not to be forced to act in defense of a country that lies about the reason for war, kidnaps renditions, tortures, and violates the very Constitution they’ve sworn to defend.

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  9. I’ve read your log and I’m not going to argue with you any more. I’m not sure where you get your numbers from, but 99% of the military that I talk to not only support the President, they are backing up their support by being there. As I said it is a volunteer military.

    Having been involved 1st hand, I still say that your information is incorrect. And having been in conflicts and seen the news about it afterward, I know how the press can spin things and how what is reported may not be even close to how things went down.

    Comment by Corky Wheaton | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  10. From Military Times poll released December 29th, 2006:

    The American military — once a staunch supporter of President Bush and the Iraq war — has grown increasingly pessimistic about chances for victory.

    For the first time, more troops disapprove of the president’s handling of the war than approve of it. Barely one-third of service members approve of the way the president is handling the war, according to the 2006 Military Times Poll.

    When the military was feeling most optimistic about the war — in 2004 — 83 percent of poll respondents thought success in Iraq was likely. This year, that number has shrunk to 50 percent.

    Only 35 percent of the military members polled this year said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, while 42 percent said they disapproved. The president’s approval rating among the military is only slightly higher than for the population as a whole.


    Just as telling, in this year’s poll only 41 percent of the military said the U.S. should have gone to war in Iraq in the first place, down from 65 percent in 2003. That closely reflects the beliefs of the general population today — 45 percent agreed in a recent USA Today/Gallup poll.

    So long, and thanks for all the fish.

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  11. Have you ever tried talking to some of your classmates who joined the service?

    Comment by Corky wheaton | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  12. Classmates? No. I rarely see anyone from my class (or any other) but among those I know who are in, or who have served, I have:

    An ex-husband – USAF

    A brother – USA 101st Airborne, KYNG

    Numerous cousins (male and female) – USA, USAF, USMC, USN, USCG – including one who was supposed to retire from the Air Force in 2004, only to be stop-lossed because of his “needed skills” as a helicopter pilot.

    My father, now deceased – USAF 1955-63, and at one time, Post Commander for American Legion Post #246

    My late uncle – USN, 1964-1967

    A number of friends and email pen-pals serving in one or another branch.

    Of the 45 or so people above, about half were Bush supporters at the beginning of OilWarII. Only 6 are still pro-Bush, pro-war.

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 8, 2007 | Reply

  13. While your list has left you open for another line, I’ll not go there. All I ask is goes back to my original comments. When you see these people, do them a favor and thank them for their service without going into the political side of the war. That is one slap they don’t need. If we have learned anything from the Vietnam War, please let it be not to take out on the soldier the disagreement with the war.

    Comment by Corky Wheaton | February 10, 2007 | Reply

  14. *grin* Yes, I realized that when I re-read it this morning. No, the others aren’t dead.

    What if they go into the political side? My brother is far more political than I, and far more radical – even got arrested for protesting in Bowling Green KY. Quite a few of my cousins are political as well. Most because they’ve seen the f**kups made by senior commanders and civilian leaders.

    You see, being a soldier doesn’t automatically make you non-political. Being a soldier doesn’t – apparently – make you believe America is always in the right. Being a soldier doesn’t automatically make you think the choices of the CinC are always correct. Why don’t you go talk to some of the veterans at IVAW?

    I would never take out my anger at this unnecessary war and the idiotic decisions of the misadministration on any soldier, not even one who believes in Bush! The anger belongs solely to those who think killing is a game. Who think soldiers are nothing more than pawns and photo op backgrounds.

    Quoting myself, “Servicemen and women do not choose their battles, they do not choose their enemies. They are told where to go and what to do by leaders that may or may not have their best interests at heart, by leaders who may or may not have seen combat themselves. And they do the very best they can, under circumstances the rest of us will never be able to comprehend.

    My problem is not, and never has been, with the men and women in uniform. It is with those who send those men and women into harm’s way without valid reason, without proper equipment and supplies. It is with those who scream themselves hoarse about supporting the troops, but cut veterans benefits in wartime and order them – in America’s name – to violate international law and their own moral code.

    It is those who mistreat the American soldier while calling the rest of us unpatriotic.”

    Comment by PA_Lady | February 10, 2007 | Reply

  15. Hi Jenn,

    I’m looking for information on how to get some financial aid to John Priestner’s family. My boyfriend was deployed in Afghanistan and stationed in Fort Bragg with John and remembers him as one of the best men he’s ever know. Unlike John, he came home safely. We are both against this war but not against the families who have suffered for it. For Christmas we would like to donate money to John’s children. If you could do anything to help this along, we’d be very grateful.

    Thank you,


    Comment by Kristin Lee | December 8, 2007 | Reply

  16. Kristin: I wish I had words to express how deeply touched I am. What a beautiful gift.

    This was the address for the memorial fund that was listed in John’s obituary:

    CWO John Richard Priestner USO Fund-Fort Bragg
    c/o Community Bank, NA,
    PO Box 39, Nichols, NY 13812

    Or if you wanted to make a more direct gift, you could try contacting the Family Support Service at Ft. Bragg’s MWR office. I’m sure they’d can help, or know who you should contact.

    Their address and phone number are:

    Soldier Support Center – 3rd Fl.
    Normandy Drive, Fort Bragg, NC 28307
    (910) 396-2808

    Thanks for showing what the true spirit of Christmas is, and please thank your boyfriend for his service.

    Comment by PA_Lady | December 8, 2007 | Reply

  17. I am Teresa Priestner, John’s wife, of almost 19 years. We live near Fort Bragg, it’s home to us now. If you want to contact me, ask Alpha Company. They know how to get in touch with me. I am not having any money donated to the USO anymore in John’s name, they didn’t seem to want or need my help. If anyone wants to help the fallen family members, including us please make donations to there is a donate now place on that site, please donate in John’s name. Thank you!!

    Comment by Teresa Priestner | December 11, 2007 | Reply

  18. Teresa: Words fail me. I remember how my sister came to hate hearing “I’m so sorry for your loss” after her husband died, so I’ll just say that I hope it is some small comfort that John is not and will never be forgotten.

    I’ve passed this on to Kristin.

    Comment by PA_Lady | December 11, 2007 | Reply

  19. Thank you Teresa, thank you Jenn. Although I’d never met Mr. Priestner, I’m sure that great people like he are in our lives forever, even if they are physically taken sooner than we’d like. I believe that we can honor their memory by taking care of each other, through love and support, and the spirit of giving. Merry Christmas to you both.

    Comment by Kristin Lee | December 13, 2007 | Reply

  20. Hi Jenn,
    Sorry, I missed this blog at the original time.
    Along with the family and friends mentioned, we also have My father, who served with the Last Mounted Calvary Unit in WWII, (that means he fought while on horseback) and Glenn’s father, who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked.
    Supporting the troops that is second nature.
    Demanding the government be held accountable, should be as well.
    And you can do both, and neither has to suffer for it.
    Keep up the good work !!!

    Comment by Mom | December 27, 2007 | Reply

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