View Full Version : Corpsman killed in Iraq honored at MCRD

09-18-03, 06:09 PM
Corpsman killed in Iraq honored at MCRD

By Jeanette Steele

September 18, 2003

Before he was killed in Iraq, Michael Vann Johnson Jr. told his mother to rest easy if he died because he would be in heaven with God.

Now Johnson is with every Marine and sailor entering the clinic at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot after officials yesterday named the building for the 25-year-old Navy corpsman, killed by an enemy grenade March 25.

It's the first dedication of a local building for an Iraq war casualty, military officials said, and an acknowledgment of a sometimes unsung hero of combat the Navy hospital corpsman.

At a ceremony, a Marine general and a Navy admiral removed a cloth covering a large maroon sign in front of the medical building. Gold letters read, "Johnson Hall."

Johnson, an Arkansas native, worked at the clinic before answering the call for hospital corpsmen to serve in Iraq. He joins legendary Marine generals such as Joseph H. Pendleton and John A. Lejeune, whose names adorn base buildings.

"He volunteered . . . to shoulder the pack, to go into harm's way and to take care of Marines," said the depot commander, Brig. Gen. John Paxton. "We were honored to have served with Michael Johnson. We're honored to recognize his legacy here today."

Johnson was the first of two Navy corpsmen known as "docs" to the troops they care for to die in the Iraq conflict. He was the only one killed by hostile fire.

Serving as a platoon corpsman with the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, Johnson's column was attacked early March 25 along Iraq's Highway 1. A rocket-propelled grenade hit his Humvee, killing him instantly.

The Navy posthumously awarded Johnson a Purple Heart and promoted him to petty officer second class. He had been a sailor for six years.

About 90 Marines and sailors from Johnson's battalion attended the ceremony. They stood at attention while a band played the "Marine Corps Hymn" and the Navy's song "Anchors Aweigh."

Tyler Roark, 20, a battalion corpsman, said it's bittersweet to have a colleague memorialized.

"I kind of feel bad because we're not supposed to die over there. . . . We're supposed to be the ones who are saving lives," Roark said.

Still, he added, the honor feels good. "We're kind of just like the forgotten people," he said. "Not this time."

Rear Adm. James Johnson, commander of Naval Medical Center San Diego, said the fallen corpsman followed a long history of sailors who saw combat with Marines.

"No Marine has taken a hill, charged a bunker, captured anything not in sight of a Navy corpsman," the admiral said after the ceremony.

Though they don't often get the glory, he said, "When they say, 'Doc up,' we know that."

Cherice Johnson, 25, wept for her husband during the ceremony. They married in 1998 and lived in San Diego. She wears a bracelet with a heart-shaped charm inscribed with the initials "MJ."

Johnson said she is touched by the military's gesture, and said her husband would have been impressed.

He was known as a boisterous but serious and deeply religious man who sang hymns in his tent in Kuwait before the war and wrote home to comfort his worried mother.

"I'm greatly honored," Cherice Johnson said. "For something like this to come together in his memory, when a lot of guys who died over there didn't get this."

Jeanette Steele: (619) 718-5182; jen.steele@uniontrib.com


Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Michael Vann Johnson Jr., 25, Little Rock, Ark., combat.

'A big hole has been ripped in the soul of the clinic'
Mourners gather for funeral of San Diego-based Navy medic killed in Iraq
Navy corpsman Michael Vann Johnson Jr. was killed Tuesday while tending to a Marine wounded in battle in Iraq.
He was hit in the head by shrapnel from a grenade and fatally injured, his sister, Janisa Hooks, told The Associated Press in Little Rock, Ark., where Johnson was born and raised.

Johnson, 25, was a hospital corpsman third class who had been assigned to travel with Camp Pendleton-based Marines in Iraq.



LAURA EMBRY / Union-Tribune
Two Navy corpsmen look on at photos on a memorial wall for fellow corpsman Michael Vann Johnson Jr. at MCRD.

List of casualties




09-21-03, 07:50 AM
Thanks for posting this...
Made some "Hard Copies" to give to a couple of Corpsman
friends of mine...
One was in Nam...the other was in the Beruit bombing...