James D. Priestap Drive dedicated at VA ceremony

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IRON MOUNTAIN – The Oscar G. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iron Mountain dedicated the James D. Priestap Drive in a ceremony attended by more than 100 people Saturday.

The circle drive in front of the main medical center was named in honor of Sergeant First Class James Priestap, who was a VA Police Officer at the medical center when he deployed to Iraq with the 46th Military Police Company in July 2006.

He was killed by a sniper’s bullet on Thanksgiving Day 2006 while on duty at a checkpoint in Baghdad.

Sgt. 1st Class James Priestap of Hardwood died Nov. 23, 2006,

“Oscar Johnson and Jim are both buried in Foster City Cemetery, and now it is neat to see James D. Priestap Drive at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center,” said Connie Priestap-Murray, widow of Sgt. Priestap.

The ceremony was attended by Priestap-Murray, their children, Brody and Franchesca; Jim’s mother, Denise Forstrom; and sister, Janet Anderson; and many extended family, VA staff, local dignitaries, and members of the Michigan National Guard.

American Legion Post 50 provided the Color Guard and the Patriot Guard Riders arrived on their motorcycles and provided a flag line.

“We are just thrilled with this, and can’t say enough how much we appreciate this,” said Priestap-Murray.

In his keynote remarks, U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, told Sgt. Priestap’s family that they should deservedly be proud of the service and sacrifice he made.

“He could have chosen to stay living here in northern Michigan, found a career job and lived the life that so many in or area do,” said Benishek. “Instead, Sergeant Priest stepped forward and served the cause of freedom.”

“Sergeant Priestap didn’t just believe in the ideals that make America great, he lived them and gave his life for them,” he added.

The efforts to name the front circle drive in honor of Sgt. Priestap began in March 2009 when then-U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak introduced legislation but was not enacted, according to Jim Rice, Medical Center Director.

Congressman Benishek authored similar legislation in February 2012, and when it was not enacted, he worked directly with the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“On April 5, 2013, Secretary Eric Shinseki approved the request to name our circle drive in front of Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center, James D. Priestap Drive,” said Rice in his opening remarks.

“Brody and Franchesca, this is for you, as someday you will be able to bring your kids and show them that sign and tell them that your dad was a hero,” said Jeff Aalto, in his remarks as a friend and co-worker of Sgt. Priestap.