Photo by Tom Rivers: The Elks Lodge dedicated this memorial for Jason Johnston on Aug. 17. The Albion Elks Riders do an annual dice run and fundraiser for a memorial scholarship given each year for an Albion who is pursuing a helping profession.
ALBION – It was 10 years ago today when Jason Johnston of Albion was killed by a roadside bomb in Arghandab, Afghanistan.
Johnston, a specialist and paratrooper in the Army, was 24. He is the only soldier from Orleans County to be killed in combat during the Afghanistan War.
He was on his second tour in Afghanistan. He completed a 13-month-deployment in 2008 and left again for the war-torn country in October 2009.
I think about his family every year around Christmas. Today is the 10thanniversary of his death. I thank his parents, Brad and Jenny Johnston, for his sacrifice. And for his sisters – Carrie, Heather and Holly – and several nieces and nephews, too.
The Johnston family has stayed active in the community. Jennie and her daughter Heather are members of the Albion Fire Department and they proudly march with the Fire Department in parades, especially on Memorial Day.
Brad joins the Albion Elks Riders are their dice runs to help raise money for his son’s memorial scholarship. He led the explorers post in the Fire Department when he son was a teen-ager.
I remember when Jason was brought home on Jan. 3. Word got out in the community and many people stood for an hour in snowbanks along Route 31 to welcome his body home. It was 10 degrees outside and many of the people who lined the snow-filled sidewalks were elderly.
I’ve told people about that day many times since. It made me proud to live in Orleans County, to see a big homecoming in such frigid conditions.
The community would do it for Trevor Cook when he was brought home at 2 in the morning on July 15, 2011. Cook was 25 when he was killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise on July 6, 2011. More than 1,000 people crowded into downtown Medina to 2 a.m. to show support for Cook’s family and respect for the young Marine.
Another large group of several hundred people was in Medina on June 9, 2014 and saluted as a motorcade passed by carrying the body of Sgt. Shaina Schmigel, 21. Schmigel, a Medina native, was killed May 30, 2014 during a night-time training drill. She was a paratrooper at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division. She was in the Army for four years, and was promoted to sergeant that January.
File photo from Albion Central School: Albion students stood in the cold to show respect for Jason Johnston and his family during a motorcade processional on Jan. 5, 2010.
Two days after Johnston’s homecoming, it was his funeral at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It was a full church with 450 mourners at his funeral.
Dan Allyn, a major general with the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, was among the speakers at the funeral.
“He always fought to be out front on the mission,” Allyn said about Johnston. “He was an extra-courageous man.”
Johnston was an “elite soldier,” the top 1 percent of Americans, Allyn said at the funeral service for the first Albion soldier to die in combat in 42 years.
Johnston, 24, felt such a devotion to his fellow soldiers that he insisted on joining them for a second deployment to Afghanistan.
“He volunteered not just once, but twice to join his teammates in Afghanistan,” Allyn said at the funeral. “He was an extraordinary teammate and brother.”
After that funeral service, the motorcade then headed to Mount Albion Cemetery. About 2,400 Albion students were out in front of the school to show support for the Johnston family and pay their respects. The students held 1,000 American flags. That is a sight I won’t forgot.
Later in June during high school graduation, Michael Bonafede, president of the Board of Education, presented a high school diploma for Johnston to both of his parents. Johnston earned a GED before joining the Army. Bonafede spoke with each parent at length, and the crowd in the gym gave a standing ovation.
The community has continued to remember Johnston, giving towards a $1,000 annual memorial scholarship that goes to a student pursuing a career in a helping profession, such as a nurse, doctor, firefighter, counselor or other social services.
“The recipient of the award should be of good character, show dedication, effort and potential while working to the best of their,” according to a description of the scholarship provided by the Elks.
“Specialist Johnston believed in the Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”
The Albion Elks Lodge in August unveiled a new memorial by the lodge on East State Street in Johnston’s honor.
The monument at the Elks Lodge states: “In honor of Spc. Jason M. Johnston, 82nd Airborne U.S. Army. Orleans County’s only soldier killed in action since Vietnam. May his spirit keep this country and county safe. A truly honored soldier. One man in one unselfish act to save us all.”
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