FAIRFIELD, Ohio – A soft-spoken suburban real-estate broker, John Prazynski didn't consider himself political and never expected to become a public figure, much less a pro-war activist.
But in the year since his son Taylor, a Marine, died in Iraq, Prazynski has devoted much of his time to supporting the troops through fundraisers, two trips to Camp Lejeune, N.C., and interviews backing the war effort.
"I could easily have gone the other way," Prazynski said. He says his activism is a tribute to his son, trying to "make something positive happen out of something so negative. That's what Taylor would want us to do."
Marine Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, 20, died May 9, 2005, of shrapnel wounds from a mortar shell that exploded near him during combat in Anbar Province. In his last phone calls, the fun-loving, popular man who had spent much of his senior year of high school helping special-needs students told his father he wanted to become a special education teacher.
Since his son's death, Prazynski, 43, has been interviewed repeatedly about the war while organizing a series of 5-kilometer runs and motorcycle rides to raise money for scholarships for students who attend his son's high school.
"I do this to keep Taylor's memory alive," Prazynski said.
On opening day of the baseball season in Cincinnati, he joined President Bush and two wounded soldiers on the field in pregame ceremonies. Prazynski said he wanted to thank Bush for his support "and give him two thumbs up with his positive stance on security, military and veterans' issues."
The former Air Force tech school instructor shares the pain — but not the viewpoint — of Cindy Sheehan, who became a high-profile war protester after her son Casey was killed in Iraq in April 2004.
"She's grieving, as we are," Prazynski said. "She's chosen to direct her energies in a different direction. I say God bless her.
"My son died for the Constitution that allows her to do what she's doing. Her son died, and God bless him, too, to support and defend the Constitution that gives her the right to speak freely, and I'm all for that right.
"I just don't think that I clearly understand what her agenda is."
Sheehan, who helped found Gold Star Families for Peace, has called for the impeachment of Bush, whom she says duped America into invading Iraq.
Prazynski understands the constant hurt of losing a child, and why such a loss has turned some grieving parents against the war. Even now, he said, "Every day is painful."
The father searched the Internet and found several groups he felt he could support, but chose Impact Player Partners because it was based in nearby Cincinnati. The nonprofit group, an advocate for wounded and disabled veterans, invited Prazynski to take part in the opening day presentation with Bush.
Prazynski also works with the Washington-based Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and hopes to raise donations for its activities by running in the Marine Corps Marathon in October.
"We're so grateful for his participation," said TAPS founder Bonnie Carroll. "It's an incredible opportunity to honor and help all those who are grieving the loss of a loved one."
Prazynski's last trip to Camp Lejeune — some 700 miles on a motorcycle — was another step.
"That's part of the healing process, to meet parents of other Marines and soldiers who died and just be able to talk to them," he said.
On his way home, Prazynski made a spur-of-the-moment 300-mile side trip.
"I went up to Arlington (National Cemetery) and visited Taylor's grave, and the other Cincinnati fallen heroes and the other men he served with. That's part, I guess, of how I deal with things," he said.
"I spent most of Saturday afternoon in Arlington. It's just peaceful; I could probably sit there for days, seriously."