Column – Remembering Private James Henry Johnson 

Published 6:38 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

By Volpe Boykin

On Memorial Day I always remember the story told by my grandparents of Private James Henry Johnson. 

He was 18 years old and lived down Burdette Road close to where I live now. He enlisted and after basic training came home for one last visit before being shipped to fight in Europe. As the story goes, during his last visit on his way to be shipped out, during his goodbye to my grandparents, he was crying and telling them he knew he would never return. 

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My grandfather always saved the picture James gave them that was taken upon his completion of basic training and the first letter he sent to James. The letter came back marked DECEASED. This kid never lived long enough to receive it. He was reportedly killed somewhere near the Rhine River. 

This young man, like many, never lived to have a family, enjoy holidays or have the many years he sacrificed for people like me. I keep his photograph in my library and remember him, and what I owe him every day. 

Anything I try to do in my hopes to benefit the community or country in general is because of my debt to him and those like him. His body was returned and he is buried in Colosse Church Cemetery.  I visit his grave often.

So he is not just a name. I have the picture he gave my grandparents, the picture they took of him and his sister just before she drove him to be shipped out (look at his face, it speaks volumes) and the letter with the stamp marked DECEASED.

When people ask me why I get involved in all I do when I could just set back and not worry with any of it, I sometimes tell the story of Private James Henry Johnson and that I am just trying to repay a un-repayable debt.