John Preston comes from a family that values service to others, to their country, and to one another. His father earned a purple heart as a United States Marine in Vietnam, before returning home to instill in his sons the value of working to benefit those around you – whether through military service or being an active member of the community. His sons, Michael, Nathan, and John, decided to do both: enlisting into the Marine Corps themselves, before pursuing careers as first responders.
After his time in the Marine Corps, Michael took to law enforcement, quickly establishing himself as his department’s “go-to” guy in the eyes of many of his peers. His passion and loyalty extended beyond his profession, and soon Michael was helping to raise a family. Over the next twenty years, he’d have four children and Michael Lee Preston would make a name for himself as the kind of man his father would be proud of, and that his younger brother John could look up to. In John’s eyes, and to many in his community, Michael was more than just a veteran, a father, a police officer… Michael was Superman.
For his part, John also joined the Marine Corps, serving with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines out of Twentynine Palms, and deploying to Iraq in support of the War on Terror. Despite being a wireman by trade, John found himself running patrols and security out of Al-Asad Air Base in 2004. According to him, he and his guys were “basically the bad news bears of all POGs playing grunt,” serving as the battalion Quick Reaction Force and leaving the wire for a hundred or more operations.
Once he was finished with his service, John went on to become a full-time firefighter, carrying the torch passed to him by his father and brother, and continuing to serve his country and community – but during his off hours, John had another passion throughout: music. Often, that passion fell to the back burner as John, like his brother and father, devoted himself to serving his community. Then, in January of last year, John received word of the unimaginable.
His brother, Michael, had chosen to end his own life.
“I wish his struggle was an external one so that we were able to recognize his pain. He was a cop for nearly 20 years after the Corps and was the go-to for many people in the department,” John told me. “He acted as a superman for most who knew him so his death was a shock to all of us. He was a great dad and loved more than the average father.”
For John, the loss was difficult to bear. “Twenty-two veterans commit suicide a day,” John said in a video released last month, “and my own brother became one of them.”
In order to cope with his feelings, John turned to his passion for music. A few months after his brother’s funeral, John came home and picked up his guitar… and something came to him. He sat down and began to write a song about Michael, and the pain his family felt in the wake of his loss – the song came together in a matter of minutes, and John immediately knew that he had something special. He reached out to the people he knew in the music industry and set the wheels in motion for an entire album, featuring veteran voices, and to be released by Pacific Records this coming March.
“Sheila Stevens of Valkyrie put together the music for the album,” John told me. “Sheila should get credit for the idea.”
Most importantly to John, every penny of the proceeds will go to The Valkyrie Initiative, a non-profit organization that helps veterans and first responders cope with the stresses of transitioning back into day-to-day life with issues like PTSD and depression.
In my eyes, this decision speaks directly to John’s passion for serving his community, and is a fitting tribute to his brother – but I couldn’t help but wonder if choosing to experience his pain in the public eye made it even worse for him, or if the good he was doing helped to ease the loss.
“Honestly, a bit of both.” He told me. “It feels good to be successful and doing something positive but it wears on me to continue to share the story over and over. I don’t shut it down when I interview, so it’s emotional every time, but through this I have also been able to forgive my brother and love him again.”
John named his song, “Superman Falls,” and in just a few weeks, his video about his brother and the song has already amassed almost a hundred thousand views on Facebook. When I spoke to John on the phone about his recent success, I could feel the sharp contrasts between his excitement about the project, and the pain that motivated it.
“This process is not easy but I have chosen to do this to help others.” It’s a simple statement, one that’s easy enough to take at face value, but as John explained it to me, a part of my mind couldn’t help but drudge up the emotions I experienced when one of my own Marines chose to end his life years ago. The same emotions I felt again, as I learned of others from my own platoon that have since followed suit.
I remembered the questions, the doubts, and the pain I felt after losing another close friend… and I had to admire John’s strength, his commitment, and his ability to value the wellbeing of others over his own mechanisms for coping.
I couldn’t think of a way to articulate that to John, so instead, I just said, wow.
“I don’t think it would have been any easier if I had chosen to do nothing.” He filled the silence I’d created by failing to come up with a worthy response.
John, like his brother before him, is on a mission to help people. Whether it’s on the clock at the fire station, or the countless hours he’s spent producing this new album with no promise of a paycheck, John continues to strive to help those in his communities; be they local or global.
“I can still feel the cold of that day in January but I promise my brother Michael did not die in vain.” John wrote alongside the video for “Superman Falls.” If you ask me, John is doing one hell of a job fulfilling that promise.
You can find “Superman Falls” on iTunes, and the full album will go on sale on March 17th. John tells me that preorders of the album will help ensure it reaches the largest possible distribution, and if “Superman Falls” is any indication, the music is not only thoughtful and important – it’s great.
And I can’t think of a more incredible way to honor the memory of Michael Lee Preston: husband, father of four, veteran, police officer, and brother.
Follow on John on Facebook for updates about the album and his music.