LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Saturday marked the 12th annual chance to honor the hometown heroes who have died at war since 9/11.
Veterans groups singled out Michael Vann Johnson Junior this morning. In March 2003 Navy Corpsman Michael Vann Johnson Jr. became the first Arkansas casualty of the war on terror in Iraq. Days before his father said Johnson Jr. sent a letter home expressing his love. His father shared his thoughts about how this ceremony helps with the healing process.
"The loss is so great you never get used to it,” Johnson said. “So when we are blessed to have ceremonies like this, it can help in the healing process."
Fourteen years later and memories of his son are still fresh on his mind. Michael Vann Johnson Sr. honored his son at a ceremony held in his honor, but also recognizing other fallen heroes killed while fighting the war on terror. Twenty-three Marines attending this years’ service were the last to see Johnson alive, and his father met them for the first time during the service.
"I've heard of these guys, I have talked to some of them on the phone, but I didn't have a chance to meet some of them personally,” Johnson said.” For my family, this is the greatest day that we have had since we lost him."
Gold star families lining the rows listened to more than 100 names called of fallen heroes, and a bell sounds, as a symbol of honor.
"They've experienced what some of us never will,” Maj. General Carl Mundy III said. “The pain and sorrow of a loved one killed in action."
Post Commander R.D Kinsey said the American Legion Post 74 looks to provide some peace and ease to families of fallen soldiers, and although it won't bring their loved one back, it's crucial they continue to be remembered.
“Not only do we honor Michael, but we honor all of the men and women from all of the branches of service that have paid the ultimate price,” Kinsey said.
During the ceremony, one of the men who served with him handed over Johnson's Bible to his father. Johnson Sr. said it would be the most protected Bible in the United States from this day forward.
"Our goal and objective first off is to serve God and country, the needs of our veterans and their families,” Kinsey said. “And to support our gold star families and keep the memory alive of those that have paid the ultimate price."