Family and friends gathered under heavy rain for the 15th anniversary of the death of Army Cpl. Jermiah Johnson at Kiwanis Park in Battle Ground during a Never to be Forgotten ceremony.
Johnson, who was from the Brush Prairie and Battle Ground area, died after he succumbed to injuries he sustained when he drove a Humvee into a canal in Baghdad, Iraq while trying to avoid an improvised explosive device on the road on Jan. 5, 2007. He was a graduate of Prairie High School.
Others also gathered in honor of Johnson. They included the Patriot Guard Riders, the Community Military Appreciation Committee (CMAC), and Johnson’s former baseball coach Dan Riley.
“He was one of the best baseball players the (Ryder) baseball program had,” Riley said. “He was a great teammate, he put everything into the game, and he was a great example of what you would want for not only an athlete, but an individual.”
The ceremony opened with the song “Proud to be an American” before retired Col. Michael Burton, co-chair of CMAC, addressed a small audience. Burton is a veteran of the Vietnam War.
“Those of us who came back (from the war) found out it wasn’t very popular. We weren’t well-liked. But things have changed and the fact is all of us know that there’s no such thing as a ‘good war,’” Burton said. “I don’t know how anyone could call a war ‘popular’ or ‘unpopular’ because they’re terrible things … but there are good causes, and this country has always been fortunate to have young men and women who are willing to step up to those causes. And that’s why we’re here today, to help commemorate the cause Cpl. Johnson gave his full measure for.”
Johnson’s mother, Elizabeth, spoke to the crowd about mourning the loss of a loved one.
“When you turn the page on your calendar, don’t do it flippantly, as that day will not be back again,” Elizabeth said. “I have a necklace around my neck that says, ‘choose joy,’ and I have chosen to choose joy in my life through adversity because that’s what Jeremiah would have wanted. He would have wanted us to have joy in our lives because he is racing around heaven right now. To have joy is an honor to him and that’s what I have chosen to do.”
Elizabeth said people should thank servicemembers when they see them at the airport or the grocery store because they’ve chosen to serve the country, adding “we are so blessed to have them.”
After her speech, the Patriot Guard Riders conducted a ceremony with a three-rifle volley.
On display was the Soldiers Battlefield Cross, which consists of a rifle, boots and a helmet.
Lynn Vaughn of the Patriot Guard Riders explained the rifle is thrust into the ground, signifying the soldier died in battle, “fighting to the end.”
The boots are worn and dirty to “remind people of the soldier’s final march” and the dog tags are hung from the rifle to show “the name of the fallen will never be forgotten.” The helmet placed on top of the rifle represents the “person stood for what this battle was fought for.”
Johnson’s wife Gale described him as “amazing” and “one of a kind.” The pair met when they were 6 years old in church.
“It was rare to have a human being as kind and adventurous as he was,” Gale said. “He was a fighter on the battlefield, but also for his family and his friends. Everything he did was with his heart and it’s hard to find that.”
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