Friday, February 17, 2012

TFH 2/17: Corporal James L. Johnson, Jr., USMC

The 9th Marine Regiment was first formed at Marine Corps Base Quantico on November 20, 1917. They were deactivated about a year after the end of World War I. The reconstituted 9th Marines reformed on February 12, 1942 and participated in the assaults of Bougainville, Guam, and Iwo Jima as part of the 3rd Marine Division. The regiment once again went to war in Vietnam, landing in-country on March 8, 1965 - the first conventional ground combat unit committed to the war.

Regular readers of Their Finest Hour know that the Navy Cross is the highest decoration the Department of the Navy can award alone, is the second-highest award for valor behind only the Medal of Honor, and is the equivalent of the Army's Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Force's Air Force Cross.

On this day in 1969, a Marine squad leader with the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines earned his place among the honor roll of Navy Cross recipients.

From Military Times' Hall of Valor:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Corporal James L Johnson, Jr. (MCSN: 2288355), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism while serving as a Squad Leader with Company E, Second Battalion, Ninth Marines, THIRD Marine Division (Reinforced), Fleet Marine Force, in connection with operations against the enemy in the Republic of Vietnam. On 17 February 1969, Corporal Johnson was directed to seize a hostile bunker complex which had pinned down elements of Company H in A Shau Valley. As the squad advanced through the hazardous area, the Marines came under a heavy volume of fire from an enemy machine gun 20 meters to their front. Not wishing to incur excessive casualties, Corporal Johnson called for supporting arms fire from gunships overhead and marked the hostile position with air bursts from his grenade launcher. When the pilots failed to locate the emplacements, he fearlessly stood in full view of the North Vietnamese Army force and waived air panels to indicate his position to the gunships. As the air strikes began, he brought his squad on line and directed the Marines toward the bunker complex, simultaneously adjusting the air strikes on his own position because of his proximity to the hostile soldiers. After the air strikes had ceased, the pilots informed him that his actions had driven 15 enemy soldiers into an open area behind the complex and that these North Vietnamese had been killed by the successive air strikes. Continuing his mission, Corporal Johnson led an aggressive assault against the bunkers during which he received a grenade fragment wound in his hand. Disregarding his injury, he resolutely proceeded across the fire-swept terrain, shouting words of encouragement to his men and directing their fire. Having sustained a second grenade fragment wound, this time in his leg, he steadfastly ignored his painful injuries, fearlessly made his way to the enemy bunker, and threw a hand grenade through the aperture of the bunker, razing the position and killing its three occupants. Deploying his men around the bunker, he directed a search of the area which revealed a complex of three more bunkers and two dead North Vietnamese soldiers. As he was preparing to rejoin the rest of his platoon, he heard moaning sounds from outside the squad's defensive perimeter. Suspecting an enemy trap, he alerted his men, then went alone to investigate the source of the noise and found one mortally wounded and one seriously wounded Marine from Company H, who had been injured in the previous engagement. Working rapidly and knowledgeably, Corporal Johnson rendered first aid to the casualty, thereby saving the man's life. Rejoining his platoon, he steadfastly refused medical attention until all other casualties had been treated and medically evacuated. His heroic and timely actions inspired all who observed him and were instrumental in minimizing Marine casualties. By his courage, intrepid fighting spirit, and unwavering devotion to duty in the face of grave personal danger, Corporal Johnson contributed significantly to the accomplishment of his unit's mission and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

I read that, and truly wonder why he wasn't given the highest honor our Nation can bestow. Regardless, all liberty-loving people are grateful for his courage and service. 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines is today attached to the 6th Marine Regiment, part of the 2nd Marine Division.

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