John Preston: Trading a Rifle for a Guitar

John Preston: Trading a Rifle for a Guitar

John Preston is a 33-year-old Marine combat veteran, firefighter, and singer-songwriter. He spent the first four years of his adult life dedicated to service. Music accompanied his combat infantry service, and John has dedicated his musical career to supporting his fellow veterans. His single “Your War is Over” is an ode to the daunting struggles of PTSD and post-deployment recovery.

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My discovery of music’s transformative power was the intro to The Beatles’ Revolution, and my pursuit of it as a career coincided with my time in the Marine Corps as a combat infantryman. I met many Marines along the way who were pivotal in my life and my development as a musician. It started in 2001, when I was getting my bearings as the company wireman for 2/7 Golf Company. One night after returning from chow, I heard a familiar song through the barracks. I followed the tune and found a Marine I knew named Justin playing a guitar and singing Garth Brooks. I began singing along and we played for hours. He told me he grew up studying music and had been playing in church since he was a little kid. After talking to him, I believed I had a shot in a musical career.

One day, on a field op away from the base, the captain formed up the company. “Our country has been attacked,” he said. Most of us didn’t believe it was true. We were a couple hundred Marines standing there with shocked faces. The night of September 11, 2001, I couldn’t sleep at all.

On a cramped flight back home to see my family before my deployment, I jotted lyrics onto a barf bag.

As a Marine infantry unit, we knew we were going to war. We’d already begun packing conex boxes. On a cramped flight back home to see my family before my deployment, I jotted lyrics onto a barf bag. I tossed my ideas to Justin, and within a half hour we’d completed the country tune “No Matter Where I Am.” It was the first song I’d ever written with a purpose. It was a song I had in mind that every parent with a son or daughter heading to war could listen to. A few months later, we played on a local radio in Kentucky, and I even did an interview with the radio station. Hearing our music on the radio … damn, it felt good.

In 2003, I was on a field day in blazing Twentynine Palms. Our rooms were stripped of furniture and we scrubbed the floors to a glossy finish. Waiting for the floor to dry, I heard Matchbox Twenty playing down the hall, and once again I found myself playing music with another fellow Marine. My buddy Shane was from a small town outside of Denver, and came from a musical family. He could play lead guitar like he was born to be in an 80s hair band.

We played and wrote music for the next six months, then I got the call to return to the infantry, and I was off to war.


I deployed to Al Assad, Iraq and volunteered to be squad leader for the 2/7 Guard force. The entire squad was made up of POGs, which was concerning considering we were a reaction team ready to go on a moment’s notice. Sometimes we ran several missions in a day. One day we’d provide security on money transports. Other days we ran security for EOD while they blew up IEDs. No two days were the same.

One mission involved opening a local school for Iraqi kids. While providing security, a bunch of children surrounded us, clapping and chanting. The boys slapped their feet, saying “Saddam bad, Saddam bad!” and the girls clapped and sang “Good, good, America! Good, good, America!” That phrase stuck with me. I had to write it down.

When we returned, I sat down with Nick, a boot Marine in his mid-twenties, and we both wrote the song. I sang and Nick scribed, and I played my way through the tune. Later that night we’d completed the song, and I felt that reliable sense of purpose, that there was this destiny much bigger than my personal war.

The boys slapped their feet, saying “Saddam bad, Saddam bad!” and the girls clapped and sang “Good, good, America! Good, good, America!” That phrase stuck with me. I had to write it down.

Nick used a crappy digital camera and shot some raw footage of me playing the song. On a government-issued computer, he edited the video together alongside pictures and footage of our time in Iraq. Pretty soon, “Good, Good, America” was a national topic. The LA times ran the story on their front page, with a link to our website. Within a day, the story had gone national and our website was crushed by over a half a million downloads of the song and the video. My inbox was filled with TV and radio interview requests. We’d really done it this time.

“Your War is Over”

But the media coverage didn’t last long. Shane and I had played live a few times in Hollywood, but the magic sort of faded away, along with our dreams of a hit single and the completion of an album. I left the Marine Corps and pursued a goal of becoming a firefighter. I poured all my energy into this goal, and though I succeeded, music become a faint memory. I’d pick up my guitar every once in a while and reminisce, but I felt like somewhat of a failure. Alcohol made it worse. In the fire engine, the noise drowned out my memories of music.

Then I reached out to an old roommate and Marine buddy. He explained his fall to addiction, and his struggles with PTSD. I’d had my own struggles, but not nearly as bad as my friend had it. He’d seen his entire squad of EOD Marines killed by an IED. He used drugs to mask the impact of the war, but it never went away for him. Through talking with him, I rediscovered my purpose. The moment I got off the phone I sat down at my piano and started playing a tune. I finished playing “Your War is Over” and I knew the world had to hear it.

As it happened, I’d just suffered a torn shoulder at work and was going to be off the rig for eight months. It was all the time I needed to get this song into the right hands. My first call was to the CEO of Pacific Records. I knew him from one of my earlier signings back in 2004, and wasn’t sure if he’d go for it. But I pushed, and pushed and pretty soon, I became a signed artist.

I called up Shane. I called up Justin. Without hesitation, both of them joined up to play alongside me. I called my friend Dave, who’d been editing films in Hollywood for many years, and he filmed our journey and made promotional and music videos in the time he wasn’t spending booking several shows and spreading the word.

The pieces had fallen into place and there we were, warfighters making warfighting music. By veterans, for veterans.

There it was. The pieces had fallen into place and there we were, warfighters making warfighting music. By veterans, for veterans. We’d signed with The Boot Campaign to give 30% of our proceeds directly to combating PTSD. We booked an interview with Fox 19 Morning show in my hometown of Cincinnati, and during the plane’s descent over the Ohio River, I saw the lights from the city reflected as Eric Clapton’s “Bell Bottom Blues” played in my earbuds. I was nearly overwhelmed with a wave of euphoria. It was only fitting that my first time on TV in ten years would be in my hometown, where my mother and father welcomed me into the world. It reminded me of every time I came home during my time in the Corps.

I don’t expect we will change the world. But you will hear us on radio stations nationwide, and I believe you’ll see “Your War is Over” climb the Billboard charts. In this country, a staggering twenty two veterans commit suicide every day. I believe that I owe it to my fellow veterans to do my part to reduce that number. Even though we may never reach zero, I will fight to bring that number as low as possible. Through a combination of fate and hard work, we have arrived to where we are today. I’ve put my rifle down and traded it for a guitar. Even though our war is over, the fight still goes on.

Download John Preston’s EP, Your War Is Over on iTunes.

Visit John Preston's Facebook page.

Leave a comment:

Roger T.

7/8/2015 3:46 PM

Thank you John. I was Navy Aviation from 67-72, during Vietnam. Unlike you, I did not see the Bombs and blow ups. None the less, I lost a pilot and aircraft on a training assignment. I spent all day standing on the ramp waiting for news... News that I did not get until days later. I just toughed it out, and buried it, and became driven to excel in the training mission. Everything was dead serious. I was determined that no flaw in our birds (A4 Skyhawk) nor Pilots could be overlooked. On coming home,To be hated by the general public, employers etc. was not anything honorable to anyone who has worn a uniform and served our Nation and our Constitution. Only in the last three years has my PTSD been diagnosed. I only heard a few bars of "Your war is over", but it brought the tears up, so I know it is God inspired. 40 years in hiding from the world is something that today, can not be allowed to happen to our Brothers and Sisters who have served. I will gladly get a copy f your tune. Thanks for your efforts. RT