COOPER CITY, Florida — The politics have been silenced, at least for a moment here, by hundreds of people that came to honor the sacrifice of U.S. Army Sgt. LaDavid T. Johnson.
The sounds that have been left are complete strangers, who stood in line Friday to extend their condolences to Myeshia Johnson, who sat at the end of the front row near the pulpit where her husband laid inside a coffin draped in the American flag.
Praise and worship music and Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA, reverberated throughout Christ the Rock Community Church as family memories are displayed on two large screens flanking the casket holding an American hero.
One photo was of 2-year-old La David Johnson, Jr., laying on his father’s back as he typed on his computer. Another shows “Mr. Wheelie King 305,” as Johnson was known for being able to perfectly execute riding a bicycle after popping it up onto the back wheel. Another photo was simply of Johnson and his wife posing together, smiling and full of love. They were best friends that became husband and wife in Aug. 2014 and had two children, Ah’Leesya and La David, Jr. Myeshia is pregnant with their third — to be named Lashee — expected to arrive in January and unable to meet her father.
Life as a U.S. soldier affords little time to take stock of all one has lost in service to country. Birthday parties and wedding anniversaries, a child’s first steps and the warmth of a spouse under a cool set of sheets. But Johnson was able to balence the life of a family man and the arduous life of a soldier as he found strength to carry on through faith and family.
“I KNO I'M NOT PERFECT BUT ALL I WANNA DO IS MAKE THE BEST OF LYFE... SEE ME EVERYDAY I WAKE UP TO SEE WAT I DID TO MAKE TODAY BETTER THAN YESTERDAY,” Johnson posted on Facebook.
The pain over the loss of Johnson was a heavy burden for one family member. Sharon Wright, Johnson’s aunt walked out of the church uncontrollable crying as family members and friends attempted to console her grief, but her melancholy was overwhelming. Paramedics were called and loaded Wright onto a stretcher, giving her oxygen.
In the church, an older black man wearing a Army service dress uniform and a hat that said, “Vietnam Veteran” patiently waited for the couple in front of him to finish delivering their sympathies to Myeshia before walking over to say a silent prayer for the young soldier.
Before entering the church, he had signed the guest book for the Johnson family, tears streamed down his face, landing on his own signature.
The old Army soldier, wearing the rank of captain and a combat infantry badge with a Bronze Star for combat valor, did not know the Johnson family or the young sergeant killed in a far off land, yet he came undeterred by age or faltering health.
Then as if he had not spent a day out of military service, the Army captain snapped to the position of attention, and slowly walked over to position himself with military precision in front of the sergeant.
The old captain removed his hat and bowed his head to say a silent prayer for Johnson, who was killed in Niger by ISIS-linked militants along with three other comrades from his unit, known as the “Bush Hogs.”
The captain replaced his hat securely on his head, snapped back to attention, raised his right arm to his brow — the officer this time saluting the enlisted soldier.
Traditionally, military officers never salute an enlisted person first, as it is the duty of the enlisted to pay respect to the officers appointed over them. There are only two exceptions: Medal of Honor recipients and the dead.
The captain executed an about face and walks over to Myeshia. He leaned in close, so he could whisper his sympathies.
The military salute originated with knights who gave it as a sign of peace, raising their rights hands to lift the visors of their helmets to make eye contact with the other as a sign of respect.
Johnson will be laid to rest on Saturday and given his final salute.