Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Alan Johnson has services ahead of burial at Arlington

"Major Johnson."

"Major Alan Johnson."

"Major Alan R. Johnson."

Three times, Army National Guard Capt. Tim Ozmer called out the roll.

The major had answered in the past, for the military, his family and his civilian job.

But Saturday afternoon, only the echo of the call rang out in the Yakima Armory.

With that symbolic end to Johnson's military service, next came three volleys from the military riflemen posted outside.

Inside, two other honor details -- from the Yakima Police Department and the Yakima County Sheriff's Office -- stood watch as Johnson's family was then presented with the American flag.

Johnson, who was activated from the Army Reserve to support Operation Iraqi Freedom, died Jan. 26 in Iraq from injuries suffered when his civil affairs team ran across an insurgent bomb.

The 44-year-old Johnson, who spent more than 25 years in the Army, National Guard and Army Reserve, was due to return from combat this spring. Instead, he became the eighth soldier or Marine with ties to the Yakima Valley to die in the Iraq war.

Although he performed multiple missions "outside the wire" of fortified bases, it was the first time he encountered enemy ordnance, an Army representative said.

More than 500 relatives, friends and military and civilian colleagues crowded the armory to remember Johnson. Many in the audience represented the Yakima County Department of Corrections, where Johnson worked for 15 years.

Martin Lopez, the department chaplain, read an e-mail in which a specialist remembered talking with Johnson as they both waited for a helicopter ride to Johnson's next post.

From that two-hour conversation, the specialist learned what many others said they already knew about Johnson -- that he was a man of God who loved his country and his family.

In the midst of war-torn Iraq, Johnson said he could see the hand of God at work, and he conveyed a sense of humility to the enlisted man before they parted.

After learning of his death, the specialist felt compelled to let Lopez know how he felt about meeting Johnson.

"He was a true warrior, and he was an honorable man," the specialist wrote, adding that he would always think of the major as a "true hero of this tour."

Johnson's colleagues in the military and the Corrections Department recalled how he was always willing to accept each new responsibility.

"When he was given a task, no matter how big or small, he would always respond, 'Roger -- I'll take care of it," said Army Lt. Col. Steven Davis, who saluted the casket of his former tanker platoon member before leaving the deck.

Steve Robertson, director of the Corrections Department, described Johnson as "loyal, hardworking, dependable and every other Boy Scout trait you can manage to come up with."

Johnson willingly sacrificed himself, Robertson said.

"Now it's our turn to let go of something that was so dear to us, and not expect anything back from God," he said, recalling the biblical phrase "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

"I'm sure Alan heard those words," Robertson said.

Corrections officers who had worked with Johnson recalled that he was always trying new assignments or taking more training, but not because he was seeking glory.

"He really believed he had a duty to perform and do the best he could for whoever he was working for," Cpl. David Rossignol said.

Sgt. Karen Kelley thought of her fellow supervisor more as a brother and co-conspirator.

"The best thing I can say about Alan is that I respected him. After all, how many men can say that they have a sticker that says 'I love my wife' on their truck?"

Those comments harkened back to the start of the service, when a slide show displayed the final text message Johnson sent to his wife from the field: "Good morning, my queen ... loving you more and more every day."

Other slides showed Johnson posing with a gun behind a military vehicle and kissing his wife on a beach near a heart drawn in the sand.

Victoria Johnson, a former jail corporal, and the couple's 19-year-old daughter, Megan, received a series of hugs from the speakers and from Gov. Chris Gregoire, who attended the service at the recommendation of her husband, a Vietnam veteran.

Johnson was not always perfect, those who knew him said. But he always tried to do his best, and he went willingly when called to serve his country.

As corrections officer Andrew Martin said:

"Sometimes good men have to go to war. Sometimes those good men don't come home. There's nothing that can be said to lessen our loss but this: Sgt. Johnson loved us, and he knew that we loved him."

From the Yakima Herald

Related Link:
Alan R. Johnson dies of injuries from I.E.D.