David F. Johnson JR. retired from the Marine Corps as a First Sergeant. I will refer to him as Gunnery Sergeant "Gunny" Johnson in this tribute however, because that is how I knew and remember him.
Gunny Johnson was undoubtedly the finest Marine Gunnery Sergeant I've ever known or worked with. It may be because of the situation that was at hand: that of combat. But that is the ultimate test of a Marines worth. Gunny Johnson proved his worth time and time again.
The Gunny joined us, Echo Company, in Okinawa in March 1967 before the company returned to Vietnam. He was a tall statue of a man with a great sense of humor and the personality that caused Marines to just want to be near him. His execution of his duties was always on top of what was required of him. His execution of his duties was automatic and without direction. He needed no direction.
I remember an incident in what was the village of Xuan Hai just south of the DMZ on 24 May 1967. Echo Company had run into stiff resistance as we attempted to enter the village from its west side. We were hit with mortars, RPG's and automatic weapons fire. I don't remember how it came about, but the Gunny and I were out front of the Company throwing grenades in enemy bunkers. As we zig zagged from bunker to bunker an enemy round ricocheted off of Gunny Johnson's helmet. He paused, turned in a deliberate fashion and flipped the sniper the "bird". Yes, the Gunny had a tremendous sense of humor.
The men of Echo Company thought so much of him it is rumored that one of them willed Gunny Johnson his land just south of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I don't know how true but in 1974 we had a reunion in Jacksonville that consisted of our former Company Commander, Captain Robert Bogard, our former (now pilot) 2nd Platoon Commander 2nd Lt Geoff Rasmussen, our former 3rd Platoon Commander 2nd Lt John Eller, First Sgt. David Johnson (Ret.) and me, former 2nd Lt Jim Cannon. Gunney Johnson invited us to his home a few miles south of Jacksonville. Across the entrance of his homeplace was a large sign "ECHO PINES".
First Sergeant David F. Johnson JR. USMC(Ret.) died in 1987 of cancer. One of his last wishes and those of his wife was that he be cremated and his ashes sprinkled at sea. Colonel Robert Bogard USMC (Ret.) our former Company Commander obliged that wish and took his wife out to sea on his boat where she sprinkled his ashes into the warm gentle winds of the Atlantic.
His memory remains to this day in the hearts and minds of those who knew him.
SEMPER FIDELIS GUNNY
James R. Cannon, Major USMC, Retired