Remembering a Hero

Several members of The Patriot Guard Riders and hundreds of other people lined Main Street in Raeford to say good-bye to Staff Sgt. Donna Rae Johnson, 29, of Raeford who was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the 514th Military Police Company, N.C. National Guard. – photo provided by the Fayetteville Observer.

Staff Sgt. Donna Johnson’s story is not unlike those of fellow fallen heroes. Our nation’s tragedy of 9/11 was part of the reason she joined the North Carolina National Guard back in August 2006.  She proudly served 2 previous tours of duty in Iraq before heading to Afghanistan this August. Col. Allen Boyette described 29 year old Stg. Johnson as a motivated soldier, a confident leading officer, and a role model for her company.

But she was more than just a soldier. Stg. Johnson, was human. She had excelled in the classroom as an honor student. She was an athlete. Her favorite color was red. She loved animals, Harley-Davidson and the NC Tar Heels basketball team. She also fell in love and married.

But what marks staff sgt. Johnson as different was that she was openly gay. Being a lesbian didn’t stop Sgt. from living a full life and it didn’t stop her from serving her country. All those who knew her would be the first to point that out. They described her as a strong, good-hearted person that was always easy to get along with. None had ever heard anybody say a bad thing about her.

So, when it was learned earlier this month that Sgt. Johnson had been killed by a suicide bomber while on patrol in Khost City, Afghanistan and that her funeral in Raeford, North Carolina would be protested by the Westboro Baptist Church (a Kansas based congregation that pickets military funerals nationwide because church leaders say soldiers’ deaths are God’s vengeance for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality), a whole community, lost in morning, stood in shock. Quickly word spread that protestors would be at the fallen hero’s funeral. Open calls were made for people  to stand between protestors and the family in mourning.

On Saturday the 13th of October, between 1,000 and 1,500 had gathered in hopes of ensuring order and dignity for a fallen soldier. These people, (including 175 Army National Guard soldiers in dress uniform, Marines, Navy SEALS, Army soldiers, leather clad bikers, and ordinary people) create a human wall to serve that purpose. And while there were a few minor scuffles between protestors and the human wall, Sgt. Johnson’s funeral was peacefully healed.

Jessica Revira a life long friend of Sgt. Johnson described what took place as follows, “To see the community come together – it’s breathtaking, I’ve never seen our community like this. She [Sgt. Donna Johnson] died an American hero, and that’s the way she deserved to be buried.”

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