Commander John Steve Neal
Creating personal photo pillows for military service family members was a natural fit for PJ Pillows. We want to provide comfort to Gold Star families or families with service members overseas by creating photo pillows of their loved ones that they can physically embrace.
Our inspiration for this project was Lance Corporal Jonathan W. Collins who was killed in action on August 8, 2004 in Iraq. He is the cousin of Alessandra and Liesel who are volunteers for PJ Pillows. They created a photo pillow of Jonathan for their aunt as a gift. The pillow brought her great comfort. She wrote, “losing him was like losing a piece of myself, the pillow with his smiling face reminds me of all the joy and love he brought to us everyday”. Jonathan inspires us to never forget and to try and provide comfort to the families left behind with memories of their loved ones.
Before he was deployed to Armadi, Iraq, Jonathan surprised his mom for Thanksgiving. He was always thinking of others, full of life, kind, and funny. His smile would light up a room and he enjoyed playing pranks. The way he cared for others made it easy for him to make deep connections with his friends. Even when he was deployed overseas, soldiers would visit his mom Angel to reminisce. On August 8th, when he was killed in action, it was not only devastating for the family but for everyone he touched. For example, a former classmate of Jonathan’s approached Angel at the funeral to let her know how important Jonathan was to her. In high school she had felt invisible but Jonathan would go out of his way to say hi to her and ask about her. She would never forget how he made her feel like someone saw her. Jonathan had the gift of being able to make people laugh and feel important. He is missed every day and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.
– Liesel and Alessandra
Commander John Steve Neal and Captain Vito Anthony Grieco
We love this project because it also honors our grandfather who served in the Vietnam War and our great grandfather who served during WW2. Our grandfather, Commander John Steven Neal, entered the Navy as an Ensign and served two 9 month deployments during the Vietnam conflict. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor from early 1968 to late 1970. His ship was a destroyer escort, the USS Camp DER 251, which patrolled the Taiwan straits doing shore bombardments and boarding junks. An interesting fact is that when this ship was decommissioned, it became the flagship of the South Vietnamese! When he died of Alzheimer’s, he was a commander in the Navy.
Our great grandfather, Vito Anthony Grieco, was a field promoted Captain in the Army during WWII. He was in charge of a a POW camp for German officers in Berlin and later stationed in Versaille.
– Paige & Justin