Trumansburg mourned the loss of one of its most upstanding young people this past week as news of the death of Sgt. James Johnston, 24, spread throughout the community.
Johnston, who was known as Jamie to his friends, was killed June 25 while on duty in Afghanistan. He died from injuries sustained during a combat operation in the Uruzgan Province, according to a news release from the Department of Defense.
Flags flew at half-staff in Tompkins County and across the state, as ordered by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Johnston was assigned to 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group, Fort Hood, TX. Though he lived in Texas most of his life, he met his wife, Krista Johnson, while attending Charles O. Dickerson High School in Trumansburg, where he later graduated. Krista Johnston is currently six months pregnant with their first child, and her father, Fred Vanderzee, said she is doing well given the circumstances.
“She’s very glad that she’s pregnant,” Vanderzee said July 1 over the phone.
“He was really looking forward to being a father,” he said of his late son-in-law. “He still will be a father, as far as we’re concerned. We just can’t see him.” Vanderzee said his daughter had a name picked out for the baby, but now she changed it to a different one: Jamie.
“They were a match made in heaven,” he said of the young couple. He said that even though Johnston was only part of his life for seven years, he made a lasting impression on him, as he tended to do wherever he went throughout his life.
“He was smart,” Vanderzee said. “Whatever he did, he did it with precision. And he was fun-loving. Oh my God, you couldn’t keep him from making jokes and making you laugh.” He said Johnston had a unique sense of humor.
“Very dark,” he said with a laugh. “He would get me every time. He could tell a joke without even cracking a grin. He got me so many times with that.”
His sense of humor could also lean more toward the bright side, as evidenced by his love of Hawaiian shirts. When he was deployed to Afghanistan, he got his fellow soldiers to wear the colorful shirts as a morale booster. In Johnston’s honor, his family is asking that everyone wear Hawaiian shirts on July 4 and post photos to facebook (as many have done already).
The Tompkins County government expressed its sadness and condolence regarding Johnston’s death, sending out a press release with a statement by Martha Robertson, Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature.
“At age 24, Sgt. Johnston had his whole life ahead of him,” Robertson said. “We are profoundly saddened by this loss and send our deepest condolences, and gratitude for his service, to his family.”
“On behalf of all New Yorkers I extend our sympathy to the friends, family, and fellow soldiers of Sgt. Johnston,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement. “His death is a reminder of the sacrifices members of the military make to protect the freedoms and the values that this state and this nation were founded upon.”