Sergeant La David Johnson was a hero of another kind long before he enlisted in the army and served with a Green Beret unit, completing one deployment and beginning another that ended with his death by ambush in a distant land.
To see his six-year-old daughter Ah’leeysa Johnson standing bewildered as her father’s remains were ceremoniously unloaded from a Delta Airlines jet at Miami International Airport on Tuesday was to be reminded that La David had been even younger when he suffered a similarly monumental loss.
His mother, Samara Johnson, had died when he was only five and just starting elementary school. He had there met Myeshia Manuel, the little girl who would grow up to become his widow and weep on the tarmac over his flag draped coffin.
Through all the years after his mother’s death, La David had remained a happy and helpful soul, staying in school and out of trouble. He graduated from Miami Carol City Senior High School in 2010 and worked at Walmart in the produce section.
“They used to call me produce boy,” he later wrote when posting a Throw-Back Thursday photo of himself grinning among the fruits and vegetables.
His cheerful work ethic was embodied in another brief posting.
“Just got off work... I love 5am to 2pm. sweet schedule....”
He wondered aloud if the blessing of working days full time rather than part-time nights was due in part to his faith.
“Church was great...See god good now I'm getting morning shifts... and 40 hours... do right by god he do right by you! It’s true”
But he did not get carried away. He made clear he was not becoming a holy roller.
“I jus feel like doing the right thing...”
He also wrote of his ambitions.
“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.”
He posted a summary of his young existence so far.
“Small resume bout me. I don't drink nor smoke, never got arrested, gotta job.”
He had from the very start maintained a psychic equilibrium which found physical expression in his passion for riding a bicycle up on the back wheel. He earned a nickname as he took to removing the front wheel and commuting on just the remaining back one to and from work at Walmart.
“Mr. Wheelie 305!” passersby cried out, the numbers being the local area code.
He continued his quest to make the best of life and at the start of 2014, his résumé came to include enlisting in the army. The aunt and uncle who had raised him posted an invitation.
“Good morning family tomorrow will be having a little family get together for our son/nephew LaDavid he will be leaving for the army on Tuesday and it's only right that we come together as one, On this Sunday January 26 at 5:30pm we will be celebrating his journey there will be hot food and drinks so come on out and take pictures and let him know that he have nothing but support on his journey.”
The night before he shipped out, he went fishing on a boat for the first time. He caught a baby hammerhead shark.
“YALL SHOULD HAVE SEEN ME. I WAS TOOOOO EXCITED. . LOL MY UNCLE WAS LIKE BOYY YUH BETTER LET HIM GO BEFORE HIS MOMMA AND DADDY COME AROUN.”
The ultimate expression of La David’s preternatural sense of balance in seemingly all things was his continuing bond with Myeshia Manuel. They went from best friends to husband and wife on August 22, 2014 and had two children, Ah’Leesya and La David, Jr. She was pregnant with their third — to be named Lashee — when he embarked on a second deployment with the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Special Force Group, known as the Bush Hog formation. He had MYESHIA tattooed across his chest under his combat fatigues.
On October 4, his unit was ambushed in Niger near the Mali border. Three of his comrades were killed. La David was listed as missing for nearly 48 hours before he was found dead. A soldier who had met him during Advanced Infantry Training wrote on La David’s Facebook page that he had been a hero in life as well as in the Army, a hero of the heart:
“You were always in such high spirits, you talked of the love for you family and how everything you were doing and planned to do was for them. You see things on the news all the time of soldiers passing and you often wonder what that person may of been like, well I know what type of person you were and I know you left your mark on so many people. The Army may have lost a soldier but the world and the people you touched lost so much more than that. I do hope your family and friends find peace and comfort as quickly as they can. Rest easy.”
La David’s remains were making the long journey home when his family posted on his Facebook page a video of two-year-old La David Johnson, Jr. on a shiny blue bicycle.
Ladavid Johnson Jr today got his first bike and he was happy as hel…l wish you was here .... So I could've seen your expressions”
The boy is smiling and looks remarkably like the father over whose coffin Myeshia Johnson wept on the tarmac four days later. She had by then spoken on the telephone with President Trump and the fuss over what he said or did not say was another sign of a national loss of equilibrium.
But whether Trump paid the fallen soldier and the widow proper respect or not has no impact at all on the respect that Sgt. La David Johnson and his childhood sweetheart command. Anybody who accords them less than their due is only diminishing himself, not them. They are true American greatness.
The visitation for Sgt. La David Johnson will be held on Friday evening at Christ the Rock Community Church in Cooper City, followed by a funeral there on Saturday morning. He will be buried as a military hero who sacrificed all for his country.
Also on Saturday will be another gathering, this one to honor La David as a hero of another kind who sought and maintained balance in the most elemental sense through his whole young life. He is as an example for all of us to follow in these chaotic times.
“ATTENTION EVERYONE We Are Having A ‘WHEELIE KING 305’ Parade This Saturday On Our Block In Remembrance Of My Husband,” Myeshia posted on Facebook. “So Everyone With DirtBikes, 4 wheelers, Pocket Bikes , BMX Bikes Come Out And Shout Out For My Husband.”
And sure to be out there will be little Mr. Wheelie 305, Jr. on his shiny new bike.