Dennis L. Johnson


When I look back on my days in the Army, I remember many things: the joys of boot camp, then learning the art and science of being a warrior, and being tested in the field; many things both good and bad. I remember exactly what it was like to have someone shoot live rounds at me with every intention of ending my life.

And I’ll never forget the sounds.

There’s nothing quite like the sound of a bouncing-betty going off or a grenade making itself heard. The sound of wind rushing past while you count the seconds as you head toward the ground; waiting to pop your chute; waiting, but not too long. Or any of the sounds men make when they are fighting to be the ones left standing.

And, like Simon and Garfunkel sang, “The Sound of Silence”. In the middle of the night when the bugs go quiet, that silence can be deafening.

But the best sounds were hearing your fellow team members checking in after a fire fight and nobody is missing and no one is hurt bad, or hearing a brother’s voice on the phone after nearly thirty years.

Tommy and I shared a bond that only comes with living in and through Hell together. We shared it with few others and most all of them didn’t make it back. We left Vietnam separately and fell out of touch. Me: because I buried it all in an effort to go on. Tommy because he kept it all alive – reliving it each day and night. We both had many of the same demons. He faced them in the daylight until he’d numbed up enough to forget it for a while. I faced them in the dark when I finally relinquished control and found sleep, however fitful.

Over a year ago, Tommy called after finding my pages on the Internet and swapping a few emails. Through the next several months we rode a roller coaster of feelings and memories. And I really think he was doing pretty good overall. He was off the booze and the drugs. He had a steady job. He had a long-term relationship with a woman he loved. And he had the steadfast love of his sister who’d been there for him through all of it.


But the PTSD was really bad and he was pretty paranoid about a lot of things. He had more conspiracy theories than anyone I’d ever met. He wouldn’t tell me where he lived, always called from pay phones, and made me promise to not search for him.

Over the last three months everything changed. He was talking about our getting together. At last. And we started planning a meet in D.C. But then his sister got sick, really sick. And his girl friend left. At some point he started using again and lost his job. His sister got worse and finally passed away. I wasn’t getting any responses to email, which was the only way I had of contacting him.

So we didn’t meet in D.C.

And he just got worse. And then he died.

I will mourn his passing and all the “might-have-beens”.

But I will also remember how he served his country with honor and courage. I will remember his selfless spirit and the trust he gave to his comrades at arms.

He is, to me, an American hero.

God Bless and keep you, brother.