On January 15, 1968, the tank Johnson was driving was immobilized due to a thrown track. The fight for its driver, however, was just beginning.
The disabled tank in the middle of a fight flipped a switch inside Specialist Johnson. With what he had - a M1911A1 pistol, an M3A1 "Grease Gun", another tank - he engaged the enemy with everything at his disposal and with incredible courage in an action that reads like a movie script rather than history, thereby earning our Nation's highest honor.
From Medal of Honor Citations for the Vietnam War (A-L):
JOHNSON, DWIGHT H.
Rank and organization: Specialist Fifth Class, U.S. Army, Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Dak To, Kontum Province, Republic of Vietnam, 15 January 1968. Entered service at: Detriot, Mich. Born: 7 May 1947, Detroit, Mich. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sp5c. Johnson, a tank driver with Company B, was a member of a reaction force moving to aid other elements of his platoon, which was in heavy contact with a battalion size North Vietnamese force. Sp5c. Johnson's tank, upon reaching the point of contact, threw a track and became immobilized. Realizing that he could do no more as a driver, he climbed out of the vehicle, armed only with a .45 caliber pistol. Despite intense hostile fire, Sp5c. Johnson killed several enemy soldiers before he had expended his ammunition. Returning to his tank through a heavy volume of antitank rocket, small arms and automatic weapons fire, he obtained a sub-machine gun with which to continue his fight against the advancing enemy. Armed with this weapon, Sp5c. Johnson again braved deadly enemy fire to return to the center of the ambush site where he courageously eliminated more of the determined foe. Engaged in extremely close combat when the last of his ammunition was expended, he killed an enemy soldier with the stock end of his submachine gun. Now weaponless, Sp5c. Johnson ignored the enemy fire around him, climbed into his platoon sergeant's tank, extricated a wounded crewmember and carried him to an armored personnel carrier. He then returned to the same tank and assisted in firing the main gun until it jammed. In a magnificent display of courage, Sp5c. Johnson exited the tank and again armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, engaged several North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to the vehicle. Fighting his way through devastating fire and remounting his own immobilized tank, he remained fully exposed to the enemy as he bravely and skillfully engaged them with the tank's externally-mounted .50 caliber machine gun; where he remained until the situation was brought under control. Sp5c. Johnson's profound concern for his fellow soldiers, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
1-69 Armor is currently inactive. The present day 4th Infantry Division is home based at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Dwight Johnson was promoted to Sergeant and received his Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House on November 19, 1968. After leaving the Army, he had difficulty readjusting to civilian life and likely suffered from both depression and what we know today as post-traumatic stress disorder. Tragically, this American hero lost his life during an armed robbery in Detroit on April 30, 1971. He left behind his wife and an infant son.
The circumstances of April 30, 1971 are irrelevant to me in honoring Dwight Johnson's legacy. If anything, it's a reminder to me of how poorly our Nation has cared for at times for our bravest when they themselves become the most vulnerable. Johnson was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 6, 1971.
Regular readers of my "Finest Hour" posts on our Nation's heroes will know that I regularly link to online memorials or location information for the resting places of those who are deceased. Here is the information for Dwight Johnson.
On several occasions, I have received emails from family members or people who knew or served with those I have honored in this space. Every time I've gotten one, I've felt so incredibly humbled. On the FindAGrave.com tribute page for Dwight Johnson, there is a picture there of a beautiful family from almost nine years ago; a family that this great American did not live to see. It's a photo I find quite inspiring.
|Dwight H. Johnson's son, grandson, and daughter-in-law at his resting place, 2004 (FindAGrave.com)|
I believe there is one more bit of symbolism embodied by that picture. If you ever wonder why American fighting men so often show courage that those of us looking at them from the outside can't possibly fathom, there's your answer.