Courage and pain: Dr. John Pryor

Why would a successful trauma surgeon with a lovely wife and 3 young children volunteer to serve in Iraq? I'll tell you why in John's own words

It happened on Christmas day. A single mortar fired randomly into the Mosul Air Base killed combat trauma surgeon Major John Paul Pryor, MD, age 42. Dr. Pryor was serving with the Army's 1st Medical Detachment, based in Fort Totten, New York. He served in 2006 as a trauma surgeon for the 344th Combat Support Hospital in Abu Ghraib. He volunteered to go. He leaves behind a wife, Dr. Carmella V. Calvo, and three children, Danielle, 10, Frank, 8, and John Jr., 4, his parents, Richard C. and Victoria Pryor of Florida, and his brother, Dr. Richard J. Pryor of Albany, New York. John was the trauma program director at the University of Pennsylvania, affectionately known as HUP (Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania) in Philadelphia. His family, colleagues, friends, and neighbors are devastated.

I feel somewhat responsible. Around 1991, John Pryor, at the age of 17 joined the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Ambulance Corps in the small upstate New York community where I lived. He worked with myself and a cadre of other medics who shared a lifelong passion for EMS. To say that John developed an interest in medicine would be a gross understatement. Truth be told, the bug bit him and became his lifelong passion. I taught John in his first EMT course, precepted him as a medic, wrote countless medical college references for him, and remained friends with him until he died on December 25th, 2008.

I've said this countless times over the past weeks: the story of John Pryor is one that needs to be told. Why would a successful trauma surgeon with a lovely wife and three young children volunteer to serve in Iraq? I'll tell you why in John's own words. The way John viewed the world changed while in medical school in Grenada. John realized that he was privileged. After September 11th, 2001, he found it very difficult to, "sit around and drink a beer knowing that there were soldiers in Iraq who needed surgeons." He had a special skill and there was a need. The risks were enormous. Every soldier, surgeon, and medic knows why John Pryor was in Iraq on Christmas day. He needed to be there. "He was there so that we can be here," said Lt. General Eric Schoonmaker, surgeon general of the Army who spoke to family and friends at John's burial.

John was not only a talented surgeon, he was a loving father, wonderful friend, and very personable human being. All the years I knew him, he was upbeat and happy. John had a knack for being able to put people at ease. He was humorous and playful. He lived life with passion. He missed his family whenever he was away from them. Surgeons who trained under John often described him as a gentleman, a word rarely seen in the same sentence with the word 'surgeon'. He shared his knowledge and expertise with anyone who asked, speaking at EMS conferences, teaching nurses and medics, and mentoring others. His family has established a website to honor John's memory at

The life of John P. Pryor was extraordinary. His loss is felt profoundly. His memory calls upon each of us to examine how we live our own lives.

Recommended for you

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2022 EMS1. All rights reserved.