Saratoga County

Devoted citizen soldier recalled

Trauma surgeon Maj. John P. Pryor died doing the work that many, including his family members, may n

Trauma surgeon Maj. John P. Pryor died doing the work that many, including his family members, may not understand, but according to his friends was practically part of his DNA.

Pryor, a 1984 Shenendehowa High School graduate who worked as the program director for the Trauma Center at the University of Pennsylvania, left for his second tour of duty in Iraq as part of the Army Reserve earlier this month. He died Christmas Day in Mosul when a mortar round exploded near his living quarters.

In a letter written to various trauma and critical care personnel, a colleague of Pryor’s, Dr. Kenneth L. Mattox of Houston, Texas, wrote that fate brought Pryor to Iraq.

“He understood that he was predestined to be in the heat of the battle, whether it be Philadelphia or Mosul. It was his fate to patch up the secondary effects of man’s inhumanity to man,” Mattox wrote.

Mike McEvoy, a paramedic with the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Ambulance Corps, was there when Pryor got his start in the medical field. Pryor joined the ambulance corps when he was 17 and McEvoy taught the teen’s first EMT course. The two remained in touch throughout the years.

McEvoy said Pryor was an “enthusiastic and passionate person” who worked hard for the ambulance corps throughout high school and during breaks from college.

desire to help

The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, affected Pryor in a life-changing way. Upon learning of the catastrophe at the World Trade Center, Pryor packed his bags and drove to New York City where he spent time administering to the injured at ground zero. After the attack, Pryor, like so many others, decided his talents would be better utilized helping his country overseas. So, at 39, he enlisted in the Army Reserve.

“He looked at what was happening in the country, and as a surgeon he thought he could use his skills to help people in Iraq,” McEvoy said. “He saw that they needed good trauma surgeons on the front lines, so that’s where he went.”

McEvoy said it was difficult for Pryor to explain to his family members how he felt about what he was doing, and it was equally hard for them to accept his decisions.

Pryor knew he could be killed, but saw the benefits of helping others as far outweighing the risks, McEvoy said.

“He literally saved hundreds of young soldiers,” McEvoy said. “That’s the kind of person he was.”

Pryor was so aware of the risks he was taking that he prepared an obituary and made funeral arrangements prior to going overseas.

“He’s not a stupid person,” McEvoy said. “He knew where he was going and what the risks were, so he made funeral arrangements and made sure everything was taken care of.”

McEvoy said it took Pryor some time to get into medical school, but once he did he excelled and became a “shining star.” He studied at the University at Buffalo and decided to go into the field of surgery.

McEvoy said those in the field who knew Pryor described him as a gentleman.

“He never developed arrogance about his talent,” McEvoy said. “He was always interested in sharing what he knew with other people and using his talent to help people.”

Pryor was also director of the Office of Life Support education for the Division of Trauma at the University of Pennsylvania.

He wrote for national publications about the similarities between the urban gang and drug violence in Philadelphia and what he saw in the Iraq war.

Although Pryor saw horrific violence in his life, McEvoy said, most people would have called him a happy person.

“Those who met him would say this is a person who is happy from the moment he wakes up until he goes to bed,” McEvoy said.

Those close to Pryor are planning a memorial service locally, McEvoy said. Funeral arrangements at his hometown of Moorestown, N.J., have not been finalized.

Pryor leaves behind a wife and three children. He is also survived by a brother, Richard, of Delmar, an emergency doctor at Ellis Hospital, and both his parents.

Mattox’s letter appears in its entirety on a Web site set up by Pryor’s family,

“Yes,” Mattox wrote. “John Pryor has the trauma surgeon’s genome. There is no need for question or discussion. We each in our own way know exactly why John was in Iraq. On another day, the loss could have been any one of us.”

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