TOMBALL, TX, US
U.S. Marine Corps
CPL, 3D BN 1ST MAR,(RCT-7, I MEF FWD), 1ST MAR DIV, CAMP PENDELTON, CA
02/09/2010, HELMAND PROVINCE, AFGHANISTAN
A slide show played on screens above the casket flanked by the United States and Marine Corps flags. It showed a son posing with Santa Claus with his siblings, a boy with Mickey and Minnie Mouse, a student at his high school dance, a buddy with his friends, a teen enjoying time on a boat.
The last photograph, a warrior in uniform.
The words “son, grandson, brother, hero” appeared at the bottom of the screen.
Nine days after being killed by an improvised explosive device on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan May 11, Marine Corporal Jeffrey Johnson was remembered as the grinning boy and the quick-witted, hard-working cutup who loved his family, loved his country and loved life.
The Rev. Kay Johnson shared words of comfort with friends and family at the crowded funeral May 20 at Corporal Johnson’s home church, Rosehill United Methodist.
Corporal Johnson stood in that very church a month before his death to speak at his grandfather’s funeral. Rev. Johnson told stories of the man who caught his jeans on fire in welding class, the man whose wife had to trick him into watching scary movies because he hated them, the man who had dreams of becoming a game warden when he got home from the war.
Marine Sergeant James Skuce, Johnson’s vehicle commander, said he immediately noticed that Johnson was different from most new Marines in combat. While many were quiet, timid and shy, Johnson’s shyness wore off in about an hour, he said.
Skuce quickly saw Johnson’s ability to handle tasks with ease, which rapidly turned into Johnson leading his fellow Marines. Johnson wanted to know how everything worked; he was constantly asking questions, constantly watching, Skuce said.
But what he will remember most about the man he considered a little brother, is his outgoing personality.
“He had a way of defusing the situation, usually with his sarcastic humor. It was really hard to stay mad at him,” he said. “To sum it up, war is sheer misery… The four of us in that truck, because of Jeff and his humor, we were always uplifted.”
Marine Captain Michael Ercolano recalled his favorite memories of Johnson at what was considered to be the celebration of Johnson’s life rather than a funeral.
“To the family of Jeffrey ‘Babyface’ Johnson, thank you,” he said. “Thank you to everyone who had a hand in raising him for instilling kindness, honor and a love of country. Thank you for supporting his dreams.”
Johnson’s captain spoke of his patriotism, of his courage in answering his nation’s call, of his willingness to give his life to a cause greater than any one man.
“He was an endearing, quick-witted young Marine who couldn’t wipe the smile off his own face if he wanted to,” he said, as the mourning audience laughed. Ercolano spoke of a Marine who always piped up and shared his opinions, of a Marine who showed exceptional potential and initiative, of a Marine who died while on patrol leading his fellow servicemen on the front lines.
“To Jeff: Every Marine sitting here today as well as those who couldn’t be here considered it an honor to serve beside you,” he said, fighting back tears. “He has fulfilled his final mission, he has checked into his last duty station. And he now patrols the streets of Heaven.”
As the Marines’ Hymn was played on the church piano, Johnson’s flag-draped casket was escorted out of the church by family and Marines. The hearse entered into a processional down FM 2920 to his grave site in the same way Johnson made his final trip home two days before: with citizens lining the street proudly waving the flag of the country he gave his life for.