A fitting tribute
Windthorst High honors fallen Marine with street name

By Lara K. Richards
Times Record News

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sgt. Gary Johnston must have traveled the short walk from Trojan Road up to the Windthorst High School football stadium countless times when he was playing football for the Trojans.

Today, the road is being renamed "Gary Johnston Way" in honor of the 2003 WHS graduate who was killed Jan. 23 near Fallujah, Iraq.

Johnston, 21, was a Marine with the 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. He was a field radio operator and died while conducting combat operations in al-Anbar Province.

Angela Johnston, Gary's mother, said the honor is a fitting tribute to her son.

"He loved sports and loved competition," she said. "And he loved football."

Angela Johnston remembers how she tried to keep Johnston off the football field when he was a young boy growing up in Archer City.

"I didn't let him start playing with the rest of his friends when he was little in Archer City, and he hung on the fence and watched and wished," she said. "But I gave in the next year, and that just started a lifelong love of the game."

Johnston began his football career as an Archer City Wildcat in the Pee Wee League. When the family moved to Windthorst, he continued his passion for the game as a Trojan.

In high school, he played both offense and defense as a linebacker and fullback. He was named all-district and all-state and was also named to the Red River 22 team by the Times Record News.

His football days didn't stop when he graduated, Angela Johnston said.

"Gary continued when he went to the Marines and he played flag football there," Angela Johnston said. "It was a love that he had."

Windthorst Mayor Sue Steinberger said many people in the city had expressed a desire to do something to honor Johnston.

Steinberger said the street name idea surfaced this spring and just seemed to grow.

"Gary probably traveled that road many, many, many times, and we thought it would be a good idea to name it in his memory, his honor," she said. "The city wanted to honor him in some permanent way and we liked this idea."

The street marker will be unveiled at 6:30 p.m. today at a pregame ceremony. Steinberger and the Archer City mayor will both make a short dedication.

Attendees will then travel up to the stadium for a dedication ceremony featuring the VFW Color Guard.

Angela Johnston said some of the Marines who Gary served with will also be attending the event.

"His brothers," she said about the many young men that have visited the Johnstons in Windthorst since Gary was killed.

"Some of the guys were here for the funeral. Some of them stopped by after they'd finished their tour of Iraq," she said. "Some of the guys were injured, and we went to visit them in San Antonio."

Steinberger signed a proclamation Monday that gives the visiting Marines the title of honorary citizens of Windthorst and Archer County.

Angela Johnston said the Marines would be happy to accept their new title as Texans.