Saturday, June 12, 2010

Old School Saturday-Johnny

I'm going to try to not make this a depressing post, I promise. But I really feel I need to post this. So bear with me, please. This is gonna be the longest, but maybe one of the most important things I blog about.....

Meet my friend Johnny Ray Strong.
 I met him Freshman year in high school. We were both in the Academy of Information Technology program & had pretty much every class together. We didnt really talk or become friends until 2nd semester. We were both waiting after school for our parents to pick us up & were 2 of the last ones there. Our friend Mark was there too. We were talking about AOL Instant Messenger (big thing at the time!) and Johnny gave me his SN to chat. He wrote it on my hand-JGOLDAUS. I remember because I asked him what it stood for & he said J is for Johnny. Gold is his favorite color & AUS is short for Austin-his favorite boxer. Random! lol But that's really where our friendship started. I used to talk to Johnny & Mark & most my other friends for HOURS on AIM every night. Johnny & I became very close friends. We used to talk on the phone all the time-from when school let out in the afternoon until bedtime! Seriously, typical high schoolers right? Our favorite thing to do was watch a movie or TV show at the same time while talking on the phone. We used to put in movies at the same time & press the play button at the same time & watch movies while on the phone. Our favorites were Rush Hour movies, Lethal Weapon movies, and oh that Jet Li movie "Romeo Must Die."

Another thing you should know about Johnny. He always wanted to be a Marine! Ever since he was little & that was all he talked about. He was a member of Young Marines in Waco at this time we were close friends in HS & he used to call me from his weekend shifts there. He loved it & had such a passion for it. I've still to this day never met anyone who knew what they wanted to do with their lives more than Johnny did. You should know Johnny was also the most sincere, kind, thoughtful person. He would never hurt a fly. He was the greatest friend-always there if someone needed them. He was also a very strong person. He would just let things that bothered him slide right off his back & not even worry about it. I really admired that about him the most.

After 4 years in high school together, we did have our ups & downs in our friendship. He joined the ROTC at school & fell into a rather "different" crowd & got into a lot of trouble for awhile. He finally made his way back though in the last year in school. Of course he enlisted in the United States Marines his Senior year-infantry division. I remember the Summer before Sophomore year (maybe Junior?) I went with him & his parents to one of his bowling tournaments down in Corpus Christi. One of the nights there his parents took us to the beach & Johnny was mad. He didnt want to see the beach-he wanted to stay in the hotel & play video games. He said he had his whole future to see the beach & travel the world when he'd join the Marines.

He was stationed in Palm Springs, California after his basic training. We used to email & text while he was out there. I tried to take a bus ride out to visit him, but at that time I'd just started working at the TV station & didnt have any time off. Then he was deployed to Iraq. And he made it back home safely. Of course, Johnny was always going to come home. I got to hang out with him a little while he was home that time. It was February 2006. He was telling me about his deployment & how scary it was. He said bombs would go off right in front of him or right behind him where he'd just walked. He'd lost a lot of friends over there. And he would be going back for a 2nd deployment....

This is how he came home. Marine Lance Cpl Johnny Ray Strong was killed in action the morning of June 12, 2007. Exactly 3 years ago today.

It was the worst day of my life. I remember going to work that morning all happy because it was David & mine's 1 month anniversary of being married. When I got home I took a short nap & woke up to see several friends had called me. I didnt think anything of it & figured I'd just call them back later. David came home for dinner break & when he went back to work I remember sitting outside in the beautiful weather reading a magazine. It was a relaxing day. Then I went inside & got on Myspace. That's when my world stopped. Immediately I saw all these postings "RIP Johnny Strong"......"We'll miss you forever, Johnny".....etc. Needless to say, I completely lost it. I was home alone & 5 months pregnant & couldnt even breathe. I immediately called the station as they were about to go live for the 9 o clock Bryan show & told the anchor I needed to talk to David-it was an emergency. I couldnt even get the words out. The other anchor there got on the phone with me & calmed me down because David had to go do the show. Ann (the anchor) had just read the story on the Waco Tribune website. This was a bigger story than usual because Johnny was the 1st killed in action from Waco. He was in headlines everywhere.

His funeral was the hardest day. Everybody showed up for it. Johnny had touched so many lives! At the time this church Westboro Baptist was doing protests at military funerals, so this group called the Patriot Guard Riders proudly came in the dozens to protect Johnny's funeral from the radical protesters. The Patriot Guard Riders are a huge group of patriotic motorcyclists that just help guard the funeral attendants from protesters & traffic. They were so awesome & greatly appreciated! It really felt like the entire town of Waco stood still to honor Johnny during his service. The drive to the cemetary from the funeral home was just the hardest. I still cant think of that without crying. The long drive had people lined up along the roads paying their respect to Johnny. People came out of businesses, cars stopped along the road, construction crews halted their work & put their hats on their hearts to honor him. It was the most amazing thing & Johnny completely deserved all that honor!

The gun salute was the Johnny was killed from being shot. I honestly still havent been able to bring myself back to that cemetary or see his tombstone since this funeral. It's been 3 years & still doesnt feel real. I get so mad when I hear stories or see on movies soldiers being pronounced dead & then they show up home & it was all a mistake. Why couldn't that have been Johnny?!!!! But I know he's gone. I saw him laying there in that coffin. And I still just find it hard to accept.

These are Johnny's parents holding his photo for the Waco paper article. I gave Johnny that Marine flag hanging behind him in this photo. I used to have nightmares in high school about Johnny dying. I was shaking him & shaking him & he wasn't waking up. They used to freak me out & sometimes I'd ask him to please not join the Marines. How selfish was I?!!! He was destined to be a hero for this country & here I was wanting to keep him here all to myself. And 2 weeks before his death I had another nightmare that Johnny had died overseas & I didnt find out until weeks after by reading it on Myspace & had missed the funeral. I remember waking up & running to Myspace to make sure it wasn't true. I never told him about that. Was it a coincidence? Or maybe God was just trying to prepare me for one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with. I'd like to think the latter of the 2.

There are a lot of things about Johnny's death that still anger me to this day. The TV station I worked at did a small story on his death & promised to bring more information. They never did. They never covered his funeral or even mentioned it. Waco Tribune did a huge front-page article on it. And the other 2 stations covered it. And yet our station covered the funeral of a random girl who drove her car into a lake & drowned a month later?! That's when I put in my notice I wasnt returning to work after Rylie was born. Johnny's death taught me life is way too short. Sometimes you can't wait until your future to go see the beach because you may not get the chance later. But you have the chance now & dont let time pass you by.

I'm going to close now. I just wanted to tell the story of one of the greatest men I've ever known. He was truly a hero & I told Casey before she passed 7 months later to tell him hello for me in heaven. I felt more peace when she passed knowing Johnny was there to help welcome her home.

"If the Army & the Navy ever look on heaven's scenes, they will find the streets are guarded by United States Marines."

This is just a news article published in Waco Tribune Herald about Arnold Schwarzenegger honoring Johnny in California. How amazing! Johnny was a huge fan of his & was probably beaming down from heaven!

(June 15, 2007)—California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the flag flown at half staff at the California Capitol in Sacramento in honor of Marine Lance Cpl. Johnny Strong of Waco, who was killed in action in Iraq on Tuesday. Strong was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, United States Marine Corps, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif. Schwarzenegger released a statement Thursday on Strong’s death.

“Maria and I, along with all Californians, are saddened by the loss of Lance Corporal Johnny Strong. His dedication and loyalty to this great country will forever be remembered. Today we honor him for his courageous duty and send our most sincere thoughts and prayers to Johnny’s family and friends in Texas.”

Strong, was a 2004 A.J. Moore Academy graduate, who, friends say, had wanted to be a Marine since he was a child. He was last in Waco in December before starting his second deployment. Strong is the first service member from Waco and the fourth Marine from Central Texas to die in the war.


Rosie said...

I read every sentence of this with chills all over. It brings tears to my eyes. It esp hits home b/c my big brother went to 3 wars since 9-11 as a Marine. I'm so sorry that your friend died. I'm sure he wouldn't have wanted to die any other way though. He sounded full of pride and I know he is missed.

Ashlee's mom said...

I've been to the cemetary twice since Johnny died and it still gives me chills. Thank you for the beautiful tribute to Johnny. He would be happy to know he has not been forgotten!!!