Decorated veteran will deliver Memorial Day message May 28

Retired Col. Jesse Johnson will give the keynote address at this year's Memorial Day ceremony, which will be held May 28 at 9 a.m. at Veterans Memorial Park on Courthouse Hill.

Johnson can’t remember a time after he turned 14 years old that he did not want to join the Army. That’s how old he was when his older brother, Daily, returned home from his tour of duty. 

“I decided that day I would be a paratrooper,” he said.

Johnson entered the service April 2, 1957. He did become a paratrooper, and much more besides. 

Johnson’s military career spans nearly three-and-a-half decades, remaining on jump status for 33 years.

“I started in my teens and completed my last jump in my 50s,” he said. 

During those years he has seen his share of those whose service to their country was cut short in Vietnam and the Middle East, as well as during the rescue of American medical students in Granada and in Operation Eagle Claw, the attempt to free American hostages from the American Embassy in Tehran. 

An appropriate choice for keynote speaker at Lumpkin County Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee’s Memorial Day service, said Chairman Paul Wingo.

“Col. Johnson is well known for his Special Forces missions,” Wingo said. “I heard him speak at a Wounded Warrior banquet and he is indeed a great American. He is a member of Achasta Veterans Group, which supports Special Forces families when loss of a service member occurs through scholarship and other means.”

Wingo is not alone in his opinion. 

Johnson received three Purple Hearts for wounds received during the Vietnam conflict during search and destroy missions. His other awards include the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest medal given by the Army for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat; three Silver Stars, which rank right below the Distinguished Service Cross; The Defense Distinguished Service Medal; two awards of the Legion of Merit; the Soldiers Medal; four Bronze Stars;  and numerous civilian awards for his work supporting the Vietnam MIA/POW recovery effort.

His heroic actions and feats have also been cited in 28 books, including Every Man a Tiger by Tom Clancy. The book looks at the air war during the Gulf War and is, in part, a biography of Gen. Chuck Horner, US Air Force Central Command, with whom Johnson worked hand-in-hand.

“I saw Horner most every day,” Johnson said.

During Operation Desert Storm Johnson commanded special forces in the area. 

“I had the opportunity to start that war [Desert Storm]. On Jan. 17, 1991 I sent eight Apache and four Air Force helicopters to knock out radar sites in Iraq so our planes could hit Baghdad that night,” he said. 

Certain Victory by Brig. Gen. Robert H. Scales Jr., Johnson said, is probably “the closest thing to what my command actually did” in the Gulf War. Taken from the official US Army account of performance during the war, it was originally published by the Office of the Chief of Staff. Scales headed up the Army’s Desert Storm Study Project.  

Another book Johnson’s part in the Gulf War appears is Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography, It Doesn’t Take a Hero.

“I’ve been fortunate in my career with some of the people I’ve worked for, including Gen. Schwarzkopf,” Johnson said, “and some of the places I’ve served.”

Retired from the US Army in 2001, Johnson now has a home in Achasta.

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