November 3, 2022
Pocatello–Seventy-two years ago, on an exposed hill half a world away from his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, a young father made a decision that would cost him his life–and earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor. The place was Hill 1542, in the Chosin Reservoir area of Korea; the man: US Marine Corps Sergeant James Edmund Johnson.
Born and raised in Pocatello, at age 17 Johnson enlisted in the Marines to serve in the final years of World War II. He re-enlisted in 1948, and was sent to Korea in August of 1950. By the end of the year, he and his platoon were engaged in fierce fighting in the Chosin Reservoir campaign. While fighting on Hill 1542, they came under heavy fire from Chinese troops disguised as allies, and were ordered to withdraw. Johnson proceeded to collect all available grenades from his men, exhorting them to keep moving and keep their heads up as they made their way down the hill in single file. He then engaged the enemy in a one-man grenade barrage to cover his troop’s withdrawal. He was never seen alive again.
Sgt. Johnson’s body has never been recovered from Korea. Though a marker in Arlington National Cemetery bears his name, he is still listed as Missing in Action–Presumed Dead as of November 2, 1953. His widow was presented his posthumous Medal of Honor on March 29, 1954.
Yesterday, local dignitaries, veterans, and community members gathered at the Bannock County Veterans Memorial Building to commemorate Johnson’s sacrifice. The ceremony opened with a prayer by Christ Church pastor Stephen Yadon, followed by the presentation of the colors, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the singing of the National Anthem and the Marines’ Hymn. Bannock County Veterans Services Coordinator Melissa Hartman spoke briefly of the need to remember all our heroes, especially those close to home. “We should be proud of him and his service for our country,” she said of Johnson.
“WHEREAS, Sergeant Johnson’s actions have been forgotten for far too long, and because our city, our country, our state, and our nation owe much to Sergeant Johnson and wish to remember and honor his brave actions and selfless service to his platoon and county.
NOW, THEREFORE, We, the undersigned, do hereby proclaim November 2, 2022, to be
SERGEANT JAMES EDMUND JOHNSON DAY
In Pocatello, Chubbuck and Bannock County and urge our citizens to remember and recognize a true American hero for his bravery and for his ultimate sacrifice.”
The document is signed by the Mayors of Pocatello and Chubbuck, and by the three Bannock County Commissioners.
Following the presentation of the proclamation, USMC Gunnery Sergeant Jason Bean read Sgt. Johnson’s Medal of Honor citation and highlighted Johnson’s sterling character. He pointed out that although Johnson was not the leader of his platoon, he willingly stepped into that role when the need arose, though it cost him the ultimate price. “We should always remember those who sacrificed their lives,” he told the audience.
Melissa Hartman closed the ceremony with a few words about Sgt. Johnson’s personal life. She told of his family: his Marine father; his mother, who worked as a cook; the five-day-old baby he left behind. He was known for three things, she said: his big smile, his amazing personality, and the way he kept his Marines in good spirits.
After the ceremony, a light lunch was served to all in attendance.