View Full Version : Retired Marine credits family with success, longtime service

01-28-08, 07:21 AM
Retired Marine credits family with success, longtime service
By Erin Faulk, Staff writer


In 1972, Steve Johnson knew that he, like so many young American men, had a high likelihood of being drafted to fight in Vietnam.

The Washington native and recent graduate of Monmouth College in Monmouth, Ill., chose a different route, and decided to join the Marine Corps rather than wait for the draft.

Johnson did not serve in Vietnam because the Marine Corps' involvement in the war had almost ended by 1972, but he chose to continue his service and make it a career.

At 57, Johnson retired in November as a major general after 35 years with the Marine Corps.

"There were lots of reasons for staying," Johnson said. "It's like a family. It's the quality of people you work for and of the people who work for you. The members are dedicated to their country and to other Marines."

Johnson served in Marine divisions in California, North Carolina and Japan, where he carried out infantry jobs. He was on recruiting duty in Oklahoma, was a Spanish exchange officer in Spain and a staff officer in England. He also served in Florida and Washington, D.C., but had not served in the Middle East before March 2005.

As the commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, Johnson was responsible for three large Marine units and an Army National Guard brigade spread over an area about the size of Utah.

His forces fought against al-Qaida-backed Iraqi and foreign insurgents, but much of their job consisted of working with Iraqi towns to develop and rebuild functioning governments and economies damaged by years of war.

Johnson pointed to other accomplishments, noting that his forces helped the Iraqi people hold a successful Constitutional referendum in October 2005 and a national election in December 2005. They also provided security for the Iraqi people and for coalition forces.

Johnson returned from Iraq in February 2006 and now lives in South Strabane Township with his wife, Lucy.

Johnson's family moved with him 20 different times during his military career, and he said that while in Iraq their support and that of other families was particularly important.

"Families are of great importance to the success the military enjoys," Johnson said. "I couldn't have done it without my family."

While in Iraq, Johnson communicated with his family frequently through e-mail. He also received mail from his family, as well as from other Washington residents wanting to show support for the Marines.

"The generosity of the American people for soldiers, sailors and Marines was just remarkable," he said.

Marines now seem to run in Johnson's family.

His father, Roger, had been a Marine and served in both World War II and the Korean War.

Johnson's son, 1st Lt. Byron Johnson, 25, and nephew, 1st Lt. Ben Minor, 27, both of Washington, are also Marines. Minor's mother, Emily, credits much of their guidance to her brother, Steve.

"If there was any fear associated with Ben's jobs or deployment, my brother would have been the first to put those fears to rest," she said. "He knew exactly what Ben would be doing, what kind of training he would receive."

Johnson's son, Byron, began his first tour in Iraq as his father's was ending in February 2006. He is now in his second tour and will return to the United States in March. He expects to be reassigned to a Marine Corps job in the states this summer.

Although Johnson did not serve in Iraq with his son, he was there with his nephew.

"It was great to have a family member down the road," said Minor. "He gave me a lot of good advice."

Minor returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq on Oct. 10, and his active duty was complete on Dec. 1. The 2003 Denison University graduate now plans to look for a civilian job in business.

He and Johnson both said that progress is slow, but positive changes are coming to Iraq.

"When the war started, people said it would take a long time, and it has. It's been slow and costly, but there are changes in Iraq," Johnson said. "We're starting to see what people said would eventually happen. It is working."

Johnson officially retired on Nov. 1. He and his wife plan to build a house, and Johnson would like to find job opportunities in the area.

He says he is proud that so many members of his own family volunteered for service.

"We're not unique because we went into the service, there are lots of families in Western Pennsylvania with family members in the service," he said. "We represent why volunteers are important to our country's military. It's a benefit America has, to have people willing to volunteer."