Major Taylor Douglas Johnson of Joaquin, Texas was the second casualty of the Vietnam War in Shelby County coming just two months after the first in November 1965. He was a career Army Officer with 12 years of service at the time of his death.
His tour in Vietnam began on Monday, August 16th, 1965 with the 133rd Assault Support Helicopter Company, 228th Assault Support Helicopter Battalion, 11th Aviation Group, 1st Cavalry Division. His military occupation specialty (MOS) was 1983, Aviation Unit Commander. On January 28th, 1966 Major Johnson was piloting a Chinook CH-47A helicopter on a resupply mission for 1st Cavalry units in the mountains west of Bong Son during operation Masher, Binh Dinh Province, South Vietnam. The weather was bad and forced the pilots to fly at lower altitudes than usual. Major Johnson was killed in action by the intense enemy small arms fire that was directed at his aircraft.
Major Johnson’s daughter, Leanne Johnson wrote a story about her dad that appeared in the Texas Bar Journal, November 2011. It is reprinted with her permission and that of the Texas Bar Journal.
“Every time I read about or see a news broadcast about a wounded or fallen soldier and the grief-stricken family, my heart is flooded with empathy and sympathy for the soldiers and for their parents, spouses, children, and other family members. What a heavy burden each carries. As attorneys, we have a wonderful opportunity through the Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans initiative to lessen that burden by volunteering.
My father, Maj. Taylor Douglas Johnson (1st Cavalry Division, U.S. Army), was killed in Vietnam. His story and that of our family are like many others. I was four years old when my father was killed, my brother was five, and my sister eight.
He was born in Joaquin, Texas, in 1929. He enjoyed working on his grandparents’ farm and was an active member of Future Farmers of America. He attended Stephen F. Austin State University, where he obtained a B.S. in agriculture. In 1953, he chose to join the Army as a private, but they offered him an opportunity to become an officer. In September 1953, he accepted a commission as a 2nd lieutenant upon graduation from Officer Candidate School. During his career, he served in Korea and Vietnam. While in the Army, he completed his M.B.A. at Lehigh University, graduated from flight school, became a fixed wing pilot, and then later became a Chinook helicopter pilot. He commenced his tour in Vietnam on Aug. 16, 1965, and was killed on Jan. 28, 1966, while piloting a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The name of the helicopter was the “Lea-Ta-Sue.” The name was derived from part of my name, Leanne; part of my brother’s name, Taylor; and part of my sister’s name, Suzanne.
I vividly remember Jan. 29, 1966, because at the very moment my mother, Mary E. Johnson, was being told about my father’s death, my brother and I were racing through the house. We managed to bump into each other and I fell against a sharp edge of the door and cut a large gash into the side of my head. My mother had the presence of mind to take me to the emergency room where I received several stitches.
It took two weeks before my father’s body was returned to Texas, and during that time, my mother was only given limited information. When she finally met the train in Longview, one of the first things she wanted to know was whether he had suffered from burns. The officer who accompanied the casket provided some further details, and Mother was thankful that he had not been burned and that the helicopter he was flying had not crashed.
I have a somewhat muddled recollection of the next few days, weeks, months, and even early years that followed. My sister and brother were school aged, and they attended school while I stayed at home with my mother. I recall how tears would flow from my mother’s cheeks while cooking dinner, vacuuming, or cleaning. And, although I witnessed the heartache and pain, my mother displayed such courage and determination to keep going, keep forging ahead, one day at a time as she picked up the pieces of her shattered life. My father was only 36 years old when he was killed. And, my mother was 30. She never remarried and still finds it very difficult to talk about the painful memories.
I am thankful that I have had the resources to assist me in learning more information about my father’s service to our country. For example, I found a book online in the military history section of the Army Archives written by Lt. Gen. John J. Tolson, Vietnam Studies, Airmobility 1961-1971, which includes a chapter on the use of Chinooks in Vietnam. It includes this specific reference to my father:
The Brigade had been supported throughout this operation by the 133d Assault Support Helicopter Company with 16 Chinooks. The CH-47 Chinook had proved essential in moving artillery and resupplying the Brigade with ammunition and supplies. Night resupply was often required. On 28 January seven Chinooks made an emergency resupply mission during weather conditions consisting of extremely low ceilings and poor visibility, and six of the seven committed helicopters were hit by enemy ground fire. The company commander, Major Taylor D. Johnson, was killed while attempting to recover a downed OH-13 scout helicopter. Despite the weather and the enemy fire, the 16 Chinooks assigned to this company during the period 1 January through 31 January flew 526 hours transferring 3,212 passengers and over 1600 tons of cargo.
My siblings and I were fortunate to have two parents who demonstrated courage and sacrifice. Even though my mother lived on a very tight budget, she clothed, fed, loved, encouraged, and assisted us daily. All three children graduated from high school and attended college. Only now that I am an adult do I have a better appreciation for the sacrifices made by both of my parents. One died and the other was left behind to live each day and face the heartache and hardships from that death.
I will never know how many nights my mother was awakened by a nightmare, or how much effort she made to ensure that each of her children had a safe and secure home, or how many prayers she voiced to God that He would help her get through one more day. I am sure that our veterans and their families go through all of this and more as they grieve and heal from their physical and emotional wounds.”…………Leanne Johnson.
Mark Taylor Smitherman posted this heartwarming tribute online May 17th, 2013 and has kindly given me permission to use it in this story. He said “I never met Major Johnson - he died just before I was born. But he was a close friend of my father (then Captain Joe V. Smitherman) in the 228th, and they chose to honor him when naming me. It's an honor that means a lot to me. And in honor of his service and sacrifice, my son Taylor carries his name forward as well.” How special is that. It is much more than a tribute, it is a living legacy.