That is how I would best describe the funeral of SFC Jim Priestap, my husband’s cousin.
I would like to personally thank everyone in Iron Mountain and Kingsford, MI for their unbelievable support. It was truly humbling. I also want to thank the Patriot Guard Riders for their commitment to Jim’s memory. They stood outside the armory all day Sunday, December 3rd and Monday, December 4th in fifteen degree temperatures to honor Jim:
They also led the processional as Jim was transported from the airport, to the funeral home, to the armory, and then, finally, to the cemetery. It was an amazing sight.
Jim was admired and loved by many, many people. About three thousand people came to the public viewing to pay their respects. The family’s viewing was Sunday morning and then Jim was moved to the armory in order to accommodate the crowds for the public viewing. Here are a couple of photos of the crowds that came to see Jim, and keep in mind, the line looked like this from about 1:00pm – 7:30pm continually.
Jim’s family displayed photos of Jim with his family from childhood to the present time. Here’s a photo of him and his wife, Connie, during one of their many happy times together.
We found out on Monday morning when General Thomas Cutler met with the family only a couple of hours or so before the funeral that Jim would not only be awarded the Purple Heart, but the Bronze Star as well.
Jim’s dad was stunned. I think he spent the entire weekend in a daze, not from just the shock of losing his son, but from the overwhelming love that surrounded us all.
Probably one of the most emotional parts of the entire weekend was the response to the processional from the Armory to the cemetery. People came out of their homes and businesses and stood in the cold to pay their respects to Jim. Some held American flags, some had their hands on their hearts, and some saluted. It was an amazing outpouring of support and respect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it.
My husband was so moved by the response that he wrote a letter to the editor of the Iron Mountain Daily News to express his gratitude:
I will never forget
EDITOR,As a cousin of Sergeant Jim Priestap, I would like to express my gratitude to the citizens of Iron Mountain, Kingsford, and surrounding communities for the incredible support they showed this past week to Jim’s friends and family.
Please know that all the flags, ribbons, signs, and long hours of volunteer work were deeply and greatly appreciated.
As Jim was driven into Kingsford from the plane that brought him home, and again on the long cold ride from the Kingsford Armory to the cemetery in Foster City, we were moved to tears at the dozens of people who stood in silence in front of their homes or businesses, or just at the side of the road, many with flags or hands over their hearts or saluting, and some just in tears, to pay their respects.
It is something I will never forget as long as I live, and I will forever hold the citizens of this community in the highest possible regard.
Stephen T. Priestap
Steve and I were also grateful for the response from readers and other bloggers on the news of Jim’s death. Many bloggers were kind enough to write a post on their sites thanking Jim for his service and expressing sincere words of sympathy. Kevin and Gregg at Pundit Review Radio also featured Jim during one of their Someone You Should Know series, and we really appreciate that they dedicated part of their show to tell their listeners about how amazing a man SFC Jim Priestap was and always will be.
My father-in-law, Jim’s uncle, spoke at the funeral, and he focused his message on one particular verse from the Bible – John 15:12, which burns in my mind when I think of Jim’s sacrifice:
Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
The soldier stood and faced his God,
Which must always come to pass.
He hoped his shoes were shining,
Just as brightly as his brass.
“Step forward now, you soldier,
How shall I deal with you?
Have you always turned the other cheek?
To My Church have you been true?”
The soldier squared his shoulders and said,
“No, Lord, I guess I ain’t.
Because those of us who carry guns,
Can’t always be a saint.
I’ve had to work most Sundays,
And at times my talk was tough.
And sometimes I’ve been violent,
Because the world is awfully rough.
But, I never took a penny,
That wasn’t mine to keep…
Though I worked a lot of overtime,
When the bills got just too steep.
And I never passed a cry for help,
Though at times I shook with fear.
And sometimes, God, forgive me,
I’ve wept unmanly tears.
I know I don’t deserve a place,
Among the people here.
They never wanted me around,
Except to calm their fears.
If you’ve a place for me here, Lord,
It needn’t be so grand.
I never expected or had too much,
But if you don’t, I’ll understand.”
There was a silence all around the throne,
Where the saints had often trod.
As the soldier waited quietly,
For the judgment of his God.
“Step forward now, you soldier,
You’ve borne your burdens well.
Walk peacefully on Heaven’s streets,
You’ve done your time in Hell.”
Update: I’ve been asked about if a memorial fund had been set up for Jim’s family. Yes, there is. Here’s the information:
Sgt James Priestap Memorial Trust Fund
First National Bank and Trust of Iron Mountain
231 South Stephenson Ave
Iron Mountain, Mich, 49801