The body of a 25-year-old beloved husband and father of two children was returned to South Florida on Tuesday evening. Sgt. La David Johnson, of Miami Gardens, was killed in action October 4 while serving on a joint U.S. and Nigerien patrol in Niger. His body was recovered in the African desert two days later after an intensive search, and the Pentagon identified him as the fourth soldier killed in the attack October 14.
Johnson was the father of a 2-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter, both who were standing there alongside their pregnant mother and widow, Myeshia Johnson, as the commercial flight carrying his casket touched down at Miami International Airport. Myeshia burst into tears as she leaned over the American flag that draped her husband’s casket, realizing the man she married just a few years ago and was gone. The couple were set to welcome their third child to the world in January.
The tarmac was filled with local dignitaries, law enforcement personnel and firefighters. Most of all, it was filled with silence to remember the storied life of Johnson, who served as a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Many joined hands and saluted Johnson as a procession traveled on the Miami streets from the airport to a funeral home in Broward County. His body will remain at Fred Hunters Funeral Home in Hollywood for a public viewing Friday with a funeral service scheduled for Saturday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. at The Christ Rock Church in Cooper City. His wife wrote on his Facebook page that one of her husband’s wishes if he were to die while serving was to “NEVER” have his face on a T-shirt in his remembrance. She encouraged those attending memorial services to stay away from doing so.
Hours before Johnson’s body arrived back on American soil, President Donald Trump had a phone conversation with a distraught Myeshia lasting about five minutes, Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Miami Gardens) told Local 10 News.
Wilson told the news outlet that during their conversation, Trump told Myeshia that her husband “knew what he signed up for … but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”
Trump has since claimed he never said the remarks to Myeshia, claiming Wilson lied. But the widow’s mother-in-law backed up Wilson’s account of Trump’s controversial comments.
“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Cowanda Jones-Johnson told The Washington Post.
Johnson is being remembered by those who were close to him as a loving husband, father, friend and colleague who never failed to make someone smile. He was a regular at church and gym and “believed in hard work,” friends told ABC Local 10 News.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement hours after Johnson was identified as one of the fallen in the attack, urging Floridians to honor Johnson and the other three U.S. soldiers killed in action.
Ann and I join Floridians across the state in honoring the lives of U.S. Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson and the other three U.S. soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and our freedom. We will never forget their heroic actions and our hearts break for their families and loved ones. We will continue to pray for the safety of all our brave military members across our country and abroad.
Johnson Went Missing After a Chaotic Attack by ISIS-Inspired Fighters
Johnson was one of four military members shot dead in Niger while working on an advise-and-assist mission the volatile area of Tongo Tongo, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Johnson and the three other U.S. service members — Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright — were killed in the attack along with four Nigerien soldiers, local media reported.
The group was performing a mission that was deemed low risk and was meant to continue relations with local leaders. There was no air cover at the time of incident, and it wasn’t supposed to involve any engagement with the enemy, Army Col. Mark R. Cheadle told reporters at the Pentagon.
“It was meant to establish relations with the local leaders and the threat at the time was deemed to be unlikely,” Cheadle said. “So, there was no overhead armed air cover during the engagement.”
A U.S. official who spoke to CNN said that Johnson was on his way out of a meeting in an unarmed vehicle when his team was ambushed with gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades from enemies believed to be affiliated with ISIS. It’s thought that the soldiers were attacked by up to 50 fighters at the Niger-Mali border and left to try and fight back on their own.
As the attack took place, the men exited the vehicles and ran for cover, killing some of the enemy fighters in the process. Somehow, though, Johnson became separated from the rest of the group during the intense firefight and went missing.
The military launched a search-and-rescue mission to recover Johnson — who was initially thought to be alive — and special operations troops were flown in to attempt a rescue.
“We had everything, jets, rotary wings, various platforms, human intelligence, signals intelligence, you name it,” Cheadle said. “There was a full-court press by all of (the Department of Defense), the Nigerien government, the Department of State and the French to help us recover our lost one.”
Eventually, Johnson’s body was recovered by Nigerien troops near where the attack took place. Further details on what transpired during — and after — haven’t been disclosed. The Department of Defense has since announced it’s launched a full investigation into the attack, CNN reported.
Johnson Enlisted in the Army in 2014 & Was a Member of a Mentorship Program
According to Local 10 News, Johnson went to Miami Carol City Senior High School and later went on to graduate from ATI Career Training Center. In addition to the schooling, Johnson became very involved in religion and being looked at as a mentor for the younger generation. He once served as a member of the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentorship program founded by Rep. Wilson in 1993.
“He was a true role model,” Rep. Wilson told The Miami Herald.
Other friends and family members say Johnson had a passion for cycling and cars, and social media posts showed just that.
Soon after graduating, he grew a desire to join the military and enlisted in the Army in January 2014 as a Wheeled Vehicle Mechanic. He scored high on Army tests after continuing to study the subject and keeping his goals in sight.
Johnson eventually transitioned to be a member of the 3rd Special Forces Group, a Green Beret unit. He worked in the unit as an operations officer, not a Green Beret.
“(Johnson’s battalion) was made better because of Johnson’s faithful service and we are focused on caring for the Johnson family during this difficult period,” 2nd Battalion and 3rd Special Forces Group Commander Lt. Col. David Painter told Local 10.
According to the Military Times, Johnson’s awards and decorations since enlisting include: the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Army Air Assault Badge, the Driver and Mechanic Badge, and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge — Sharpshooter with Rifle.
Johnson Was Known by the Community as the ‘Wheelie King’ for His Unique Style of Riding
Johnson was a former employee at the Walmart in Pembroke Pines and was dubbed as the “Wheelie King 305″ by those who knew him. His fascination for cycling and cars started at a young age and continued as he matured.
In 2013, Local 10 News wrote a profile of Johnson. It referred to him as a “local stunt rider” that turns heads every time he bikes down the street. That’s because of his unique bicycle and riding style on his BMX-style bike with just one tire.
On his way to and from his job at Walmart, Johnson could often be seen on the bike he crated. He said that he removed the front tire on the bike simply because he wanted to “challenge” himself. After many hours of trial and error, he started to find the proper way to balance and made a skill of it.
The Local 10 article described Johnson as sporting “wildly-colored socks” and a T-shirt that had his nickname on it. He described his style of riding to the news outlet.
“You go slow, though, make sure you keep your balance,” he said. “Once you feel that you are comfortable, you could just ride all day.”
In an effort to honor Johnson, a family member took to his Facebook page to encourage everyone who lives in Miami Gardens that owns a dirk bike or an ATV to do a “12’O’Clock line.
“Everyone knew him as the one wheelie king and I know he would gladly appreciate it,” the post said.
As Johnson Grew up, He Made a Change in His Life & Turned to His Faith for Guidance
Johnson suffered the death of his mother when he was just a child, and he was subsequently adopted by his aunt. He was known to regularly attend church and tattooed his wife’s name across his chest after the two got married.
“My brother stood for something,” Johnson’s half-sister Angela Ghent wrote in a social media post. “He fought for this country and that’s how he will be remembered.”
Other family members and friends remembered Johnson emotionally on his Facebook page. He was known to many not only as the “Wheelie King,” but also simply as “Tee.”
Past Facebook posts by Johnson to his profile talk about learning to become a man and appreciate life for what it is with the assistance of religion. He started attending Bible study in 2012 and started learning more about his faith. In many Facebook posts, Johnson wrote about what it means to be a father.
A Scholarship Fund Has Been Set up in His Honor
In the days that followed Johnson’s death, Rep. Wilson’s 5,000 Role Models of Excellence program established a scholarship in his name. The scholarship is called the Role Model Army Sgt. La David Johnson Scholarship and will ensure that at least three children have money as they attend college. The scholarship fund was set up through GoFundMe by a member of the organiation and it raised nearly $150,000 in the first 24 hours of funding despite a $100,000 eventual goal.
We are asking you to donate to this worthy cause. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson has been focused on the defeat of Boko Haram for 5 years, after they kidnapped 276 school girls from their boarding school in Nigeria.
To make a contribution to the scholarship fund, click here.
Some of the donations filtered in through social media, as users asked friends to contribute to the cause, and funds continuously came in.