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October 24, 2014  |  By  | 


APRIL2013 •elitemagazine |11 S omeweresurprised whenTeresaPriestner stayedinNorthCarolina afterherhusbandwas killedinIraq. “Peoplethinkyoujustwrapitup andgohomewhenyou’remilitary,” shesaid. Buthernativestateof Pennsylvanianolongerfeltlikehome. AndHarnettCountydid,inspiteof —andbecauseof—thememoriesit heldofChiefWarrantOfficerJohn Priestner. “JohnandIweregoingtoretire here,”Teresasaysofthelakeside homewhereshestillliveswiththeir twodaughters. Morethansixyearsafterhisdeath inahelicoptercrash,heremainsa strongpresenceintheirlives,featured innumerousframedphotosanda largeportraitandforevervisitingtheir memoriesandthoughts. TeresametJohnwhenshewas5 andhewas7.Theywerefriends throughtheiryouthandbecamea coupleafterhejoinedtheAirForce. Justweeksaftertheirfirstkiss,he informedhershewasengaged—to him.Afewmonthslater,theywere marriedandembarkedonalifethat tooktheminandoutofthemilitary andthenbackinagain,whenhe joinedtheArmyshortlybeforethe 9/11attacks. Ahelicopterpilot,hewasinIraq onhisthirddeploymentwhen somethingwentwrongonanight trainingmission.BackinHarnett County,Teresawasstandingwithher daughtersbythelakebehindtheir house,feeling“happy,happy,happy” whenawrenchingpainnearlytoppled her. “Ifeltsomethinggetrippedfrom me,”Teresasaid.“AndIthought,‘Oh, myGod,it’sJohn.’” Thenextmorning,twouniformed Armyofficersarrivedatherdoorto confirmwhatshesomehowalready knew—thathe’dbeenkilled,along withaco-pilot.ItwasNov.6,2006, andnothingwouldeverbethesame again. Shetriedtostaystrongforher girls,butfeltdevastatedandisolated byherowngrief. “Youhear,‘You’llalwaysbeapart Teresa Priestner oftheArmyfamily,’”shesaid.“But yousitbackasawidowandthink, ‘WheredoIfitin?’Theydon’treally wantyouaround.You’reareminderof sadthings.” Butshefoundshewasn’talone. Thewarhadmadeotherwidowsin theareaandtheystartedmeeting. “Atfirst,therewerethreeofus, thenfour,thensix,then12,”Teresa said.“Atonetime,therewerelike21 ofus.” Theytalkedtoeachotherand listenedtoeachother.Andthey understoodeachotherinwaysthat othersseemedunableto. “Mywidowfriendsarethewhole reasonI’mheretoday,”Priestnersaid. “Theyhelpedpushmeforward.Ican’t imaginegoingthroughitalone.” Nowshecanlookbacktothe past,withitsjoysandsorrowsand thedreamsthatdiedwhenJohndid. Shecanalsolookforwardtothe future.Sheandherdaughters, Breanne,21,andMegan,17,speak regularlytomilitarygroupsabouthow tohelppeoplecopewiththedeathof amilitaryfamilymember.Sheand Breannehopeeventuallytoopena counselingserviceformilitary families. Thatisyetanotherreasonforthe familytostaynearFortBragg—at home. “Wewanttomakeadifference,” Priestnersaid.“It’snotaboutus anymore.It’saboutthosewhocome behindus.Ifwewidowsdon’ttryto makeitbetterforthosewhocome afterus,that’saproblem.” —CatherinePritchard Teresaand daughtersMegan, left,andBreanne.

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