Monday, June 06, 2011
The British had gained control of the air and the Russians were making huge strides to the east. America had been gearing up in Europe and had landed in Italy while hopping islands in the Pacific. On the night of June 5, 1944, a 19 year old Sergeant from South Carolina prepared to jump into France with his colleagues from the 82 Airborne Division.
I wonder if Uncle John Lloyd is in any of those photos you see of Ike visiting the paratroops the eve before D-Day. I wonder why he volunteered to switch companies and jump, as his unit was not scheduled to. Was he embarrassed he had been stricken with appendicitis soon after jumping into Sicily? He had already been through about the most rigorous training the Army had to offer. He had nothing to prove to anyone but himself. I wonder how my Dad felt on the day the Western Union man came to the door, fifteen years old and losing his favorite brother so soon after losing his Father in a train accident. How did Granny handle it? I know she turned to prayer and belief in God's will. Is that the time Dad lost his faith?
John Lloyd had not been home since he had left over two years before. I suppose he wrote letters as that is what you always see in the old movies. Today, the troops are able to keep in touch through blogs and cell phones. Imagine someone having to call home from the belly of a C-47.
"No, I can talk. The light is still red."
"Yeah. We're about to jump. Don't worry. It's what we've been trained to do."
" I said don't worry. Alright, every body's standing up, I've got to go."
"Yes. I have it all. Kiss the kids. The light's green. I love you.""
I wonder about the last time my Dad spoke with him. What did John Lloyd tell him when he left? To take care of their Mother? Uncle Monk was joined up and gone by then. Uncle George was blind. Two of the three girls were already grown and out of the home. The young teen was going to be the only sighted male in the house for awhile.
My youngest Aunt was seventeen and was too busy to go to the prayer meeting at Ebenezer Church on June 5, 1944. She went out with her friends instead. To this day, she feels ashamed she was not there to pray for the troops and her brother. It's silly to think that way of course, but she still speaks bitterly of herself when she remembers that day sixty-seven years ago.
He was first buried in a temporary grave in the days after the invasion. Later, the family had a choice to bring his body home for burial as many so chose to do. They decided to allow him to remain where he fell, a solemn marble cross marking his final resting place alongside thousands of others. Granny never saw his grave. I don't know if she ever flew in her life. Her faith told her she would see her boy again. Whole. Healthy. Shining that sly smile that runs in that side of the family. The smile I see on my oldest already.
There are photos of the temporary grave. Uncle Monk must have been able to find it during his time there. In the Ardennes, he ran into members of John Lloyd's unit. They spoke fondly of their fallen comrade, but there was other work still to do.
The other children made the trip over the years, some more than once, finding tangible proof of their family's sacrifice noted in a peaceful field overlooking the Channel. One day I will make that journey with my kids. I plan to sit and talk to him. Then, I'll probably pull them all close to me and hug them fiercely, as I am sure Granny did with John Lloyd when he left Florence County for the last time in 1942. As I am sure she would have given almost anything to do so again every day for the next thirty-six years.
From The State Newspaper
"John Lloyd Johnson Jr., of Florence, was a sergeant in the 505 Parachute Infantry Regiment. His brother, W.W. Johnson, of West Columbia, visited his grave at Normandy for the first time on Memorial Day last year. 'It affected me more than I expected that it would,” he said. “I was 15 when he died. He was my older brother, and he was my hero.'”
John L. Johnson, Jr.
Sergeant, U.S. Army
Entered the Service from: South Carolina
Buried at: Plot F Row 21 Grave 28
Normandy American Cemetery
Awards: Purple Heart
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward
which we have striven these many months. The eyes of
the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving
people everywhere march with you. In company with
our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts,
you will bring about the destruction of the German war
machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed
peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is
well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened.
He will fight savagely.
But this is the year I944 ! Much has happened since the
Nazi triumphs of I940-4I. The United Nations have inflicted
upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle,
man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced
their strength in the air and their capacity to wage
overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of
war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained
fighting men. The tide has turned ! The free men of
the world are marching together to Victory !
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to
duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less
than full Victory !
Good Luck ! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty
God upon this great and noble undertaking."Yes. I have it all. Kiss the kids. The light's green. I love you."