Sgt. Gary S. Johnston
Died: January 23, 2007
21, of Windthorst, Texas; assigned to 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force Okinawa, Japan; died Jan. 23 while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.
Gary S. Johnston killed during combat operations
Wednesday, January 24 2007
Windthorst has lost a beloved son, a brave soldier.
Marine Gary Johnston, a 2003 Windthorst High School graduate, has been killed in the line of duty.
The U.S. Marine Corps would not comment and could not release details surrounding his death, a spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon.
Parents J.B. "Nubbin" and Angela Johnston were notified Tuesday, friends and family members confirmed. The family declined to comment Tuesday evening.
The loss sent a wave of sadness across the tight-knit community of Windthorst in Archer County.
Longtime Windthorst football coach Bill Green said that Johnston was not only a standout player, but a standout individual.
"Whenever he decided that's the route he was going to take (joining the military), we immediately thought, 'He'll make a good soldier.' It's just the type of person that he is," Green said.
"He's the kind of kid you'd want in your squad. He's a kid that I'd want in my huddle."
Windthorst High School teacher Dee Coppage said that she wasn't surprised when she learned Johnston had joined the military.
"There was something very true blue about him, almost gallant," she said. "He was very steady. You could count on him. He was very responsible and he was willing, always willing to do anything you needed."
Johnston always pushed himself to achieve more, she said.
"He was someone who wanted to do the best," Coppage said. "He always wanted to do better, and he wanted to do the next thing better."
Johnston made all-district his senior year, when he played on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and fullback.
He was named to the Times Record News Red River 22 team on the defensive line. That year, he recorded 91 tackles for the Trojans.
"I've been here 13 years, and I would say he would fall in the top 10 in the linebacker category," Green said when comparing Johnston to others he has coached. "He was known for his tenacity and hitting ability."
Green said Johnston showed the same dedication on the field as he did off.
"He participated in football like he did everything else in his life," he said. "He took a professional approach at it. He never missed practice. He was here all the time. He worked hard every day. He was just a super kid, and comes from a super family."
Everyone has fond memories of Johnston.
Coppage said she remembered his long, long legs stretched out into the aisle by his desk in the classroom.
"One of the other teachers said he was a true gentleman," she said. "I remember that he had this slow, sweet smile and I don't remember ever seeing him in a bad mood. He was just always very quiet, but he was a constant presence."
Johnston excelled on the football field, and Green said he still remembers one game in particular held at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.
"We were behind and he hadn't caught many passes. We had 90 yards to go for a touchdown and we completed about a 70-yard pass to Gary," Green said. "It was a great catch; he had to really reach out to get it."
Both Green and Coppage said the Windthorst community was feeling the heartache of losing one of its own.
Tear-stained eyes walked down the Windthorst ISD hallways all day and all over town Tuesday.
"Everybody has watched these kids grow up and see them come through school. You watch them grow into men," he said. "It sends ripples throughout the entire community, the whole school."
"This really brings the war ... home. It makes it more personal," he said.
Coppage said it was obvious that Johnston was honored to be a Marine.
"He was just so proud, and part of that pride, I think, was that he was serving the country," she said.
Sgt. Gary S. Johnston, USMC
Sunday, April 01, 2007
Sergeant Gary S. Johnston , 21, USMC, died from a bomb blast while serving in combat on January 23, 2007 in the Al Anbar province of Iraq. Sgt. Johnson was assigned as a radio operator to 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force Okinawa, Japan.
Gary Johnston was the son of Nubbin and Angela Johnston, dairy farmers from Windthorst, Texas, population 500. He graduated from Windhorst High School in 2003, where he played football, basketball, and baseball. He ran track, too. He played part of his senior football season with a broken arm. He was a shooter who had won various state championships in 4-H Shooting Sports and the Amateur Trap Shooting Association. He went to college for a while and then joined the Marines, a life-long dream.
His pal, Shawn Talley, said that you couldn't change him. Even if he was hurting on the inside, he was still smiling on the outside. His classmate, Chance Schroeder, says Gary was always there to help. If you needed a ride home, he'd come help.
The small town of Windthorst turned out for Gary in a big way, forming an eleven mile long funeral cortege, which passed through streets lined with American flags flying. There was no room graveside to accomodate all the mourners, so the Marines set up a video screen in the local municipal gym, packed with grim citizens. Even so, some people had to stand outside.
Fred Phelps and members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas listed Gary's funeral as one they would picket as part of their campaign against homosexuality in their vision of a doomed America. "Thank God For IEDs," said their fliers. The Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcyle club of veterans who block Phelps' indecent protests with their cycles, rode into town and put that outrage to rest to the town's relief.
Gary's sister, Sabrina, spoke at his funeral: "Whenever I would fall he would pick me up, wipe my face and tell me 'It's OK.' He was my best friend. He was my hero. I will miss him every day."
Nubbin Johnson said to a reporter later, "My brother died in vain in Vietnam. That won't happen to my son."
"You want to know why small-town America is losing so many of its people in Iraq? It's because small-town America still believes in this country, still believes in fighting for the freedom to worship whichever God you believe in. Our young men and women - like Gary - have been sacrificing their lives for this for 200 years. This is America."