Trumansburg soldier dies in combat

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The Trumansburg community is mourning the death of another fallen soldier, Sgt. James G. Johnston, 24, who died in combat on June 25, in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan. His passing was a result of wounds sustained from small arms fire while engaged in combat operations.

Johnston was assigned to 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 71st Ordnance Group, Fort Hood, Texas. He entered active-duty military service in July 2013 as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist and was deployed in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in March 2019, according to a Department of Defense News Release.

A statement from Lt. Col. Stacy M. Enyeart, commander of the 79th Ordnance Battalion, reads, “It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Sgt. James Johnston. He was the epitome of what we as soldiers all aspire to be: intelligent, trained, always ready. We will honor his service and his sacrifice to this nation as we continue to protect others from explosive hazards around the world.”

Johnston was a graduate of Charles O’Dickerson High School here, where he was living when he enlisted in the Army. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered all U.S. Flags in New York state fly at half mast.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend our sympathy to the friends, family and fellow soldiers of Sgt. Johnston,” he said in a statement on the governor’s website. “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.”

U.S. flags in Texas, where Johnston was born and spent most of his life and where his family still lives, have yet to be flown at half mast.

“The family would like the governor to order all flags to half-staff, just as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did this week in New York,” according to a report from Killeen Daily Herald (KDH) in Texas.

Johnston’s family members feel their pleas to the governor to lower the flag have been ignored, and they have expressed their disappointment and frustration with the Texas government. His mother, Meghan Billiot, said in the report from KDH that they had the opportunity to meet with Vice President Mike Pence when they retrieved Johnston’s body from Dover Air Force Base, but also reported, “we can’t even get a call from our governor.”

“I am very disappointed in our state,” she said on social media. “We have called several representatives and congressmen. The Army, EOD, Galveston PD and many others have reached out to The Capital and tried to get answers. We have been given a multitude of platitudes, excuses, different versions of the story.”

Johnston’s wife, Krista Johnston, also spoke out on social media.

“There should be no reason we are getting the run around about having the flags lowered here,” she said. “He sacrificed everything and that is absolutely not going to go ignored, especially when all of NY state had theirs at half mast not long after the news broke. So thank you so much to everyone that is not only supporting us but supporting the hero that Sgt. James Johnston is and honoring his legacy.”

Krista, earlier in the week, also posted a plea for support in honoring Johnston by wearing Hawiian shirts, which Johnston loved, and it did not go unnoticed. Dozens of people from around the country posted pictures of themselves wearing their Hawaiian attire in honor of Johnston to Krista’s social media accounts.

Johnston’s awards and decorations include a Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, Senior Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge and Explosive Ordnance Badge.

Baby registry and college fund fundraisers have been organized for Krista, who is due to give birth to the couple’s first baby in November. There is a GoFundMe fundraiser with a goal of $85,000 which can be found at www.gofundme.com/f/baby-registry-fund-for-our-lost-eod-brother.

At the time of the writing of this article, nearly $20,000 had been raised. There is also an Amazon baby registry which can be found at https://www.amazon.com/baby-reg/james-johnston-krista-johnston-november-2019-copperascove/1IKUVJN6S3LHB.

The registry is nearly sold out, but gift cards are always useful and can be purchased at the registry.

Johnston will be buried in Texas. Funeral arrangements are still underway, and the service will be televised.

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