Sunday, September 03, 2006

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson, 19, of Hartford, Conn.

Lance Cpl. Johnson was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; died Sept. 3 while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.

ENFIELD -- Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson of Enfield, a member of the Young Marines from the age of 11, was killed Sept. 2, 2006 by a roadside bomb near Ramadi, Iraq. He was 19 years old.

A 19-year-old Marine from Enfield was killed Saturday morning in Iraq when a roadside bomb detonated as his unit traveled from Ramadi to Habina, a family friend said Monday.

Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson's parents, Louis and Kathy Johnson, learned of his death Sunday evening when a Marine Corps casualty assistance team visited their Few Street home.

Word of the young Marine's death spread quickly in Enfield, where Johnson, a 2005 Enfield High School graduate, was remembered Monday as a "focused and thoughtful" young man whose dream since childhood was to become a Marine.

"He was hell-bent on being a Marine," said Ron Jackman of Longmeadow, Mass., a family friend who was serving as the Johnson family spokesman. "When he found out he was going to Iraq, he was hell-bent on going. He had no fear whatsoever."

The Marines declined to comment about Johnson until the Department of Defense formally announces his death. There have been 33 servicemen and civilians with Connecticut ties who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002.

Johnson is the second serviceman from Enfield to die in Iraq. Marine Staff Sgt. Phillip A. Jordan, 42, of Enfield, was killed in battle March 23, 2003, in Nasiriyah, Iraq. Jordan was promoted to gunnery sergeant posthumously.

Johnson served with weapons company, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, from Camp Lejeune, N.C. He arrived in Iraq in mid-July.

And while Johnson's family was supportive of his deep desire to be a Marine, they also had some reservations about his service in Iraq.

His mother was afraid of getting "that knock on the door," Jackman said. "That's what they got - the knock on the door."

The Rev. Michael J. Coons, pastor of Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer in Enfield, said he spent time with Johnson's family Sunday night. Many church members learned of Johnson's death during a prayer circle on Monday.

"Their faith in the Lord Jesus is strong," Coons said of Johnson's family. "They know he's in heaven with Jesus and they know they will see him again. The pain of separation, the pain and the grief of loss is very real."

Coons said he found Johnson to be an impressive young man who was active in church and committed to his faith.

"I had the privilege of baptizing him and confirming him in the Christian faith," Coons recalled. "Sometimes teenagers complain about going to confirmation class."

Johnson, however, never did. "We always enjoyed talking about our Lord and savior," Coons said.

Johnson's other passion was the Marines, and he prepared himself for his service by joining a Young Marines detachment at Westover Air Reserve Base in Massachusetts when he was 11.

The Young Marines, founded in 1958 in Waterbury, is a youth education and service program for boys and girls ages 8 through completion of high school that promotes the mental, moral and physical development of its members.

"This is pretty sad," said Edward C. Mitrook, commanding officer of the Westover Young Marines detachment and a retired Marine Corps sergeant major. "He did touch a lot of people. He probably thought he didn't, but he did."

Johnson attained the rank of staff sergeant in the Young Marines and was a role model to younger members, Mitrook said. Johnson is the first alumnus of the Westover detachment to be lost in combat, he added.

But Johnson understood what he was getting involved in when he joined the Marines, Mitrook said. He knew he'd likely see combat. "He was living his dream," added Patrick Droney, an Enfield police lieutenant and friend of Johnson through church.

Mark Durfee, the head elder at Johnson's church and a retired Army lieutenant colonel, recalled Johnson as a kind and thoughtful young man.

"You'd love to have him as your own such - such a gentleman," said Durfee, who teaches in the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at New Britain High School. "Kids today think about themselves first and foremost. He was not like that. He's got to be in the top 1 percent of kids today. He was so focused and thoughtful."

Durfee said he spoke to Johnson's father Monday morning and he recalled for him a conversation father and son had had a few days ago.

"He said [Iraq] is where he belonged and he knew where he was supposed to be," Durfee recalled. "I believe it was deep in his faith, in his being. He knew this was something that was important."

Still, Johnson's death has been difficult, Durfee said.

"Our whole church is quite overwhelmed," he said. "We know he's in a better place. The sad part is not being around to see him grow up. The sadness is seeing his mom and dad in their situation."

Jackman said that he saw Johnson about 10 weeks ago, when he visited Enfield after completing boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and his transformation into a Marine.

"You could see it come out in him - the haircut, the pushed-back shoulders, trim and tan," Jackman said. "And he was proud of it. You could tell."

Johnson's next goal was to become an elite Marine Corps scout-sniper, Mitrook said. He hoped to attend sniper school upon his unit's return from Iraq.

Durfee said it's important to remember the sacrifice so many young people make.

"I thank God that there are still young people out there willing to do what they do," Durfee said. "We would not be where we are today as a free country without many Phil Johnsons."

Marine Lance Cpl. Philip A. Johnson was killed in action on 09/03/06.

No comments: