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5/29/2013 9:59:00 AM
Flag flies at MDI Rock for fallen warriors
Chance Smith, center left, and John Johnson sit on an antique air track drill, flanked by Calvin Logan, left, and Scott Schwartzbauer at MDI Rock in Dewey. The men, and Burton Flick, not pictured, comprised a “team” that cleared the display area and anchored a flagpole to the drill in honor of fallen soldiers, and particularly, Johnson’s son, Corey, who was killed in Afghanistan on May 27, 2011, this year’s Memorial Day.
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz
Chance Smith, center left, and John Johnson sit on an antique air track drill, flanked by Calvin Logan, left, and Scott Schwartzbauer at MDI Rock in Dewey. The men, and Burton Flick, not pictured, comprised a “team” that cleared the display area and anchored a flagpole to the drill in honor of fallen soldiers, and particularly, Johnson’s son, Corey, who was killed in Afghanistan on May 27, 2011, this year’s Memorial Day.
Trib Photo/Cheryl Hartz

Cheryl Hartz
News Editor


This year, Memorial Day fell on the second anniversary of the day Pfc. John Corey Johnson was killed in action in Afghanistan.

This year, in honor of Corey and all fallen service people, a new U.S. flag proudly waves high on a hill overlooking Dewey, Ariz., at MDI Rock, its pole attached to an antique air track drill.

"There's been a huge price paid for our freedom," manager John Johnson, Corey's father, said. "I want to thank all the fallen ones, those who served, who are serving and who will serve. All I ask is that no one forgets."

Getting the flag in place by Memorial Day was a healing act for Johnson.

Johnson, who had his own rock business in Congress for years, said. "I taught him to drill when he was eight years old, and my son was right by my side most of the time. I was 'Mr. Mom' for most of my son's life."

The Army private's life ended at age 28 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, when Corey's 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y., was attacked by insurgents firing small arms.

"They were 'the Reapers,' kicking in doors and rooting 'em out," his father, wearing a 10th Mountain Division 'Climb to Glory' T-shirt, said of his son's Delta Company 1st Platoon. "Six days after Corey landed, he earned a CIB (Combat Infantry Badge). He'd been there two months when he was ambushed. He was hit with a recoilless rifle with his first sergeant and lieutenant in a Humvee while they were going to get air conditioner parts," Johnson said.

The Army flew the father to a special memorial service at Fort Drum, where he said the first sergeant, recovering from his own terrible injuries, thanked him for raising a son with such a strong work ethic.

Johnson explained how he allowed Corey to quit high school at age 16 only to "go to my school."

"I got him up at 5 a.m. for 97 days straight," Johnson said. "On the 98th day, he rolled out of bed as usual, all bleary-eyed, and saw I'd packed the truck with fishing gear for a week in Pinetop. He liked to hunt, so on the way we stopped and I let him pick out a rifle."

At 18, Corey moved on to the Colorado oil fields. He married, fathered daughter, McKenna, and had divorced and remarried when he decided to enter the military in his late 20s. But no branch would take him because of hearing loss and a lazy eye. His father told him to persevere, and finally, Corey wrote a letter to Sen. John McCain.

"A couple weeks later, he was accepted into the Army," Johnson said. "And I'm thankful in the last six months before he was deployed, Corey spent a lot of time with his mother and they grew so close. She's a good person."

Corey also left behind his wife, Jennifer, stepdaughter, Marina, and daughter, Rae.

And his superiors related stories of Corey's activities, including a lifesaving action on the recipient's birthday.

Johnson talked to Corey for the last time just a week before he was killed. Corey was agonizing over orders he'd had to follow that resulted in the death of children.

"He worried about going to hell," Johnson said, adding he reassured his son that he had no choice in war. "The same thing happened to my dad in Korea."

Johnson said his grandfather fought in WWI, his uncle in WWII, and his father was one of nine men on Pork Chop Hill. Along with two cousins in Vietnam and a pair of nephews in Operation Enduring Freedom, his family has seen its share of combat.

"I'm not saying our family did any more than anyone else, because we haven't, but we have pulled our own weight, and I'm damn thankful to live where we live," he said.

Johnson holds tight to memories like these, and to his own daughters. Misty, Candise, Jami and Sidney are grown, but he now is a single Mr. Mom to 8-year-old Nickolle. He commutes daily to the rock quarry from Peoria.

He credits MDI owner Michael Denny and crew with helping him get his life together after he "hit bottom."

"If it wasn't for all the people here I wouldn't be standing under Old Glory today," Johnson said, also expressing his thanks to Denny for sponsoring the flagpole and allowing him to remove part of a solid rock hillside to open up the display area. "I feel like I have a purpose now."

He also thanks Flags Galore & More owner Paul Goupil, who "gave him a heckuva discount."

MDI office manager Calvin Logan said the flagpole was "JJ's" idea, and credited "the team" with getting it put up.

"We've got a good team here. Everybody did their part," Logan said.

It makes all the difference to Johnson.

"I miss my son terribly. He could always make you laugh," Johnson said. "But he believed in what he did. If they didn't fall for us, we wouldn't have the quality of life we have. This is still the best country on earth and even though I didn't vote for him, Mr. Obama is still my president and I still support him. There's a reason we call it the United States."


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Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, May 30, 2013
Article comment by: Gary D

A heart warming story that is most welcome in this day and age of griping, complaining, blaming and finger pointing. It is reassuring to read a story of compassion for our fellow man. Sorry for Mr. Johnsons' loss, and a big thank you to Mike Denny and the men at MDI. LETS NOT FORGET ALL THOSE WHO HAVE DIED AND THOSE SERVING so that the rest of us can have the right to express our feelings however we wish.



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