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R.I.P. SGT Donna Johnson

26 Comments

14 October 2012
Written By: Don Carter
Don Carter is a disabled veteran and talented photographer

This began last week when my friend Bud Hunter and I were sitting in the office of his tire shop. I heard him start cursing, and asked what was going on. His friend, Donna Johnson of Raeford, N.C., a 29 year-old SGT in the 82nd ABN DIV was killed 01 Oct 2012 in Khost, Afghanistan, by a terrorist with a suicide vest. Her funeral, to be held on Saturday 13 Oct 2012, and the cause of the cursing was Bud reading that the Westboro Baptist Church were going to protest at the funeral.

I have been to more than my share of funerals. Raeford is a very small town, pretty much a south-west annex in all but name to Fayetteville, N.C. (home of Ft. Bragg, the 82nd Airborne, and Special Operations Command). The Westboro “people” wanted to protest a funeral, here? Incredible. Bud asked me to go with him to stand and shield the family and church from these hateful people. I of course said yes. There were to be the N.C. Patriot Guard Riders, invited by the family. The community, both Raeford where Donna grew up, as well as her Army family, along with some Marines, and Veterans who wished to honor Donna on that last mile to her final resting place would be out in force. At the last minute, I decided to take the camera and document the events. We shined and vacuumed out my car, as Bud wanted to drop the top on it and ride with two American flags jammed into the well for the top.

We parked the car on the corner directly across the street from her house. A crowd was massing quickly at the park, taking up an entire block. We were to be placed around the Westboro protesters and would march out. Westboro had their permit for two blocks from the church where the service was to be held. It was to last from 1015 hrs until 1100 hrs when the service started.

MG 1142-1000Parked at the staging area, across the street from Donna’s house.

MG 1158-1000Staging to join the group already blocking the protesters.

When the time came, everyone began moving toward the protesters, one block north and then one block east, away from the church.

MG 1259-1000Moving toward our objective.

As we rounded the corner, we caught our first glimpse of those who would defile this day with their hateful presence.

MG 1283-1000The protesters, hidden behind a sea of Donna’s friends, family, co-workers, and supporters.

I looked the other way, toward the church where the service was being held, and was greeted by this sight:

MG 1293-1000More people outside of the church. I have no idea how many were here.

I began to move closer to the protesters, finally catching my first glimpse of the American equivalent of the Taliban as far as religious extremists go.

MG 1321-1000Westboro Baptist Church protesters.

That flag being worn about the waist of the Westboro woman as well as the two being worn so as to be dragged on the ground by the older man were to become the cause of the one arrest of the day. The four WBC people were faced with an impenetrable wall of Donna’s supporters. By the end of the protest, the boy in the shorts and the blue hoodie had flushed cheeks and shame in his eyes, as well he should.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Keshia Zapata · 6 years ago
    I have to say that this post made me so very proud! I trained with SGT Johnson so when I learned that she made the ultimate sacrifice well it broke my heart! Then I learned that her funeral was being protested and you could ask anyone close to me, I was beyond outraged! I could not be there for her funeral services but I did get in contact with someone who is stationed at Fort Bragg and they agreed immediately to stand with the other volunteers. I am very proud of all that SGT Johnson did throughout her military career and I am lucky to have known such an amazing person. Then I find out that someone got arrested and I immediately started researching. I want to say to him, THANK YOU! Not just for standing up against the man who disgraced our flag and our country but for being an amazing human being! We do not know how lucky we are to have men and women in our country who make such sacrifices as SGT Johnson and well this man who was arrested. THANK YOU to all the volunteers who took time to stand against the protesters. SGT Johnson deserved so much better as have all of the other service members these protesters have stood against. RIP SGT Johnson!! It was an honor serving with you and I look forward to seeing you again!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 6 years ago
    A moving tribute to one of our service ladies in uniform. My heart & my prayers goes to her family on this very sad day. Could I make a suggestion please ? Make some kind of " No see through " thick American flags that covers approximately 10-12 feet to be put on Patriot riders & cars as well people who can hold the thick American flags so that the disgusting so called WBC can not be seen nor their protesting signs and continue with the human forming chains. It is one thing to have freedom of speech and quite another thing to interrupt a mourning & respectful funeral procession. I am for freedom of speech so as long there are good manners & social skills. A judge needs to use common sense and order the WBC to not attend any more military funeral processions. I consider military funeral processions as a moving property of U.S. Government on official business and people need to show respect and leave the grieving family alone so they can have some privacy. The WBC if they want to protest, they can do so at their own so-called church. Military funeral processions are not the time nor place for protests. I believe there needs to be a balance of freedom of speech & what is socially acceptable etc. There needs to be laws passed for interrupting U.S. Government on official business. Not the one night in jail & a hefty fine. Now back to prayers for the family trying to grieve in private. Thank you for your service to our country. May God & The American People comfort and support your family in your hour of need.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heath · 6 years ago
    Thank you Don Carter for taking pictures on this very mourningly sad day. The hearse was beautifully made with love for the Patriot motorcycle riders carrying the hearse of our fallen soldier. I pray for the day there will be a strong peacetime military again with no need for military funeral processions and that we can go back to pre-Sept 10th days again.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Carter · 6 years ago
    I would go with disabled over wounded in the author comment... I never saw direct action in Iraq during the invasion but I have the knees, shoulders, neck, and back injuries to back up the latter ;-)

    @Heath, there is no way the family could see the protesters. There were two very large groups of supporters there, numbering several hundred people: one at the church itself, and the one blocking the protesters two blocks away. Better this way even if we don't like or agree with them, as opposed to using force of government to deny liberty. Freedom and liberty found a way to allow both the protest as well as the shielding of the mourning family and friends.

    -Don Carter
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon author · 6 years ago
    I thought you got hit by an IED. I have so many friends who got hit that I cannot now keep it straight, sadly. I will correct when webmaster comes to screen.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tac Foley & Family · 6 years ago
    Nothing even approaching this despicable behaviour by the WBC has ever happened here in UK, where we share the losses of our military personnel every bit as much as you do in the USA. In fact, in law, their behavious would be illegal, for although we too have freedom of speech, we also have the European charter for Human Rights, that states that all members have the right to be treated with dignity and, in the case of a funeral, due reverence and the respect they have earned by their sacrifice. The likes of the WBC would quickly find themsleves banned from making public demonstrations of any kind, that is, if any of them survived their antics if they tried this activity at any military funeral that I have ever attended.

    God Bless Sgt Donna Johnson, an all our Brothers and Sisters, in harm's way for the rest of us, protesters as well, if only they recognised it.

    tac foley
    33 years British Army [Retired]
  • This commment is unpublished.
    John House · 6 years ago
    Thank God for soldiers like Donna who live to serve, and God Bless her and her family for their sacrifice to this great country. And where would we be without the PGR, many of whom are Vietnam Vets who returned to treatment similar to what WBC is dishing out now. And I would like to shake the hand of the man who rescued the flags. Charges should be dismissed. What a patriot. It's a shame this has to be about anything more than Sgt Donna Johnson's service and sacrifice, but this is what we've become as a country.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Peter · 6 years ago
    This is American at its Best!
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Denise · 6 years ago
      This is the America I believe in...Good people doing what is right and refusing to allow evil to show it's ugly face. I had tears running down my face reading this. I feel pride and affection for my fellow Americans and disgust for the othes.

      Shame on these hateful , evil people that do not deserve to even have their name spoken.

      Rest in Peace Sgt Donna Johnson, I humbly thank you for your love of country and your sacrifice and pray that God comforts your family and loved ones in the way that only he can.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Carter · 6 years ago
    Okay, it looks like one of the WBC people started stomping on the flag. One soldier ran out and hit the WBC person and was arrested. The flag was given to two other soldiers for proper retirement.Reported with video at Guardian of Valor website.
    Starting to come in that charges were dropped.
    D
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Sun Tzu · 6 years ago
      [quote name="Don Carter"]
      Starting to come in that charges were dropped.
      D[/quote]

      We should all hope so 8)

      Hope he doesn't face any military charges for conduct unbecoming, etc :-*
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Trisha Barton · 6 years ago
    I was raised in the Baptist faith. I broke away from all denominations and am now just a Bible-believing Christian.

    What WBC is doing is what is causing all the hate for "Christians". I am appalled that they would even call themselves Christians.

    Thank you once again Michael for sharing the truth with all of us.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Trisha Barton · 6 years ago
      and thank you Don, for the story and the beautiful photos. I wish I could have been there.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sgt James Todaro · 6 years ago
    We live in so much peace here that sometimes, like getting an inoculation against a disease, we need to have our defenses stimulated by being exposed to pernicious infections like the Westboro bunch. They think they are doing God's work, and they are right in that conviction. They are just too stupid or blind to realize that they serve to strengthen the convictions of those who they hope to dissuade. Would the turnout have been this big without them? I think not. Thank you, you Westboro 'useful idiots', you have succeeded in a mission you never knew you had.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon author · 6 years ago
      Your points are right on target.

      And Donna did her duty. Nobody can take away from that.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Jbad04 · 6 years ago
      As the father of a wounded Afghan vet, Westboro always raises my blood pressure. But, Sgt., I believe you are right on the mark and the term "useful idiots" is satisfyingly correct. May Sgt. Johnson rest in peace in the Mansions of the Lord.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    tim · 6 years ago
    this so called church is really just one extended family controlled by the father/grandfather. God bless Donna and prayers for her family
  • This commment is unpublished.
    leyla · 6 years ago
    God Bless her soul and all the soldiers who have passed on and those who are still with us!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sun Tzu · 6 years ago
    The most poignant and moving photo to me, besides the awesome hearse, is the little stars and stripes girl, holding that large American flag, almost twice her size. 8) Great Shot :-)

    Don't worry about the photos you missed Don, you did an outstanding job of capturing hearts and minds in the photos and that of the viewers here :-)

    May we never have to see any more of these funerals :sad:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sun Tzu · 6 years ago
    I have to say to say something here that I have often wondered. Where else in the world would you see something like this unfold :-?

    This scene is uniquely American, and is what makes us truly standout from the rest of world as a nation, and a people 8)

    I wonder if the radicalized peasants who killed this brave American could see this demonstration of our commitment to our nation and our people, would they still feel they have a chance of ever succeeding in their mission of hate and destruction :-?

    If they could see the raw emotion and anger simmering below the tears of the crowd, would they not cower in fear :-?

    I wonder... :-?

    Requiem en pacem est Sgt Donna Johnson
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Lisa Cocco · 6 years ago
    I would never presume to know the Lord's mind but I honestly believe that he would be as disgusted as I over these people who call themselves Christian. I firmly believe that the Lord was grieving for Sgt. Donna Johnson as much as her family. She was a brave American soldier who took a stand to protect her country. My heart goes out to her family and I am ashamed that these "people" felt the need to defame both Sgt. Johnson and the country she loved and defended. How wonderful that the citizens of Raeford loved the Sgt. and her family enough that they would protect her family from such ugliness. These "people" are the Taliban of American religious extremists.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ret7 · 6 years ago
    Westboro crowd misses God's intention, for even when he was sending Israel & later Judah into captivity for their sins, he continued to plead with them to turn around, ask forgiveness, and obey him. Oh how he wants to give us blessings and not his wrath! But he leaves us the choice of which path we will take. I hope that SGT Donna Johnson knew and accepted Jesus as her lord and savior before her time on earth was done.
    Pastor Tim, SFC USA (Ret)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Garner · 6 years ago
    Where does America find these young women aand mmen? I am 75 now and I find that the tears come more freely when I read stories like this. Donna is and will be in my prayers until I see her at the final retreat. May the United States always find those that are willing to protect this great country of outs. They are the future.

    DUTY, HONOR AND COUNTRY
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Paul Garner · 6 years ago
    Followon:

    Forgive the typing errors. I suffer from beginning Parkinsons (courtsy from
    Agent Orange)

    DUTY, HONOR, COUNTRY
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Trisha Barton · 6 years ago
      I grew up in the generation of the draft and had many friends who either lost their lives in Viet Nam or came back with the effects of the poison Agent Orange. I thank you for your service to our country. I pray for peace for you in your time of physical suffering.

      And to each of you who have served, or are still serving to protect the world from the evil of terrorism; God bless you, your families and loved ones. This country should take better care of you and show you the respect you so richly deserve.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Carter · 6 years ago
    Thanks everyone. This was an emotional and difficult day for many reasons, not the least of which was having to watch the hatred of the WBC, yet knowing that it is that very freedom for which many of us fought, and for which many died. I have a bunch more pictures from Saturday that I will add to my site, and I am still trying to track down the guy who was arrested (without getting him in trouble at work) for follow up. Sometimes doing the right thing is not reporting further...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Denise · 6 years ago
    The people that needed to see what that man did, saw it. That is a mental snap-shot burned in their minds forever.

    Sometimes knowing is enough...

    Bless you Don.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob T Guy · 6 years ago
    They, WBC, have the right to freedom of speech. I challenge the decisions of courts who have agreed with them, though. Their speech is deliberately, violently, inflammatory, and is akin to the old standard of yelling "Fire!" in the theater. They are deliberately injuring people by acting this way. If someone can win a law suit claiming emotional stress is injurious, I don't see why they are not getting sued every time they step out.

    As far as the flag dragging goes. I think if they have a right to dirty the flag, the rest of us have a duty to defend it. Their right = ass kicking as far as I am concerned.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    karen · 6 years ago
    This is so sad... GOD BLESS U AND YOUR WORK
  • This commment is unpublished.
    steve lepley · 6 years ago
    Thank you for your service to Our Country, from a Viet Nam Marine Corpsman
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Carter · 6 years ago
    Bob T Guy, good argument regarding the inflammatory aspects v. freedom of speech.
    Karen and Steve, thank you. Steve, thank you for yours. I remember you guys coming home to no support and being left in the cold due to politics. As soon as I was able to comprehend what had happened, I became infuriated by the vast majority of my parent's generation. After all it was the politicians that they elected who sent you guys there after Kennedy was assassinated and then dropped support as soon as the political winds changed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Diane Martin · 6 years ago
    As a proud veteran of the Army and Navy I am greatly honored and proud of you and all those who stood with you to block those fanatics from desecrating this funeral. As a former baptist, I am repeatedly ashamed at the behavior of these alleged Christians at WBC. They do not demonstrate what Jesus did do nor what he preached nor espoused. They are the same sort of fanatics as the Taliban etc. The loss of such patriots and idealists who believed in serving their country is hard enough, without that sort carrying on. My prayers and thoughts go out to her family and to all the service men and women who continue to serve, even such mean spirited people as WBC. Bless the family, the service people, the Patriot Guard and patriots, such as you. Thank you all. Diane

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