Junior was born into a large, hard working family in the small town of Marion, South Carolina. Cotton was king in these parts, with tobacco following close behind in providing a living for the folks who either worked the fields or in one of the textile mills in town. America was transitioning from world War II to a “police” action in a far east peninsula called Korea. Junior had time on his hands and soon garnered the attention of the local constabulary which resulted in his joining the United States Army. He was well suited to the rigid discipline the Army provided and soon worked his way up to Master Sergeant at a very young age. His birth certificate simply said that he was “Junior” in parenthesis, indicating that he was not provided a given name when he entered the world. Times were indeed tough . . .
Junior loved his military existence and volunteered for Airborne training and became very adept with the small arms that formed the nucleus of an infantry unit. He soon found himself on a ship, bound for the Korean Conflict where he was assigned to the 25th Infantry Division, a unit that earned many honors as a frontline fighting division. It was in this early combat that Junior discovered he had yet another talent, a zeal for close quarters fighting. His tough boyhood experiences had prepared him well for the combat he was soon to see. Junior was a leader from the front sort of solder and possessed the ability to motivate his troops when under fire. His wife, Hap, had relocated to Japan as many dependent wives and families did during this conflict, and on January 25, 1950 bore a son. Junior, remembering his rather lackluster entrance into the world, carefully selected a name for the new addition to the family. He had little time for additional family considerations at this point in time as he was busy earning one of two Silver Stars and a battlefield commission to Second Lieutenant. Many years later, he talked of the incredible heat during the summer and debilitating cold that Korea welcomed it’s combatants with.
Sgt. Johnson’s abbreviated citation for this Silver Star is below:
After returning home from Korea, Lt. Johnson went about changing his military records to reflect a new name instead of the inauspicious “Junior”. He opted to name himself after the name he had chosen for his son. Junior Johnson became Stephen R. Johnson, Sr. I, then, became Stephen R. Johnson, Jr. or SR to my friends. Dad left this world far too early, felled by a vicious form of lung cancer at the age of 43. I followed in his footsteps, enlisting in the US Army and completing a tour in Vietnam before becoming a career Highway Patrolman.
When I stand for the flag, or gaze at the colors on our residential flagpole, I remember that folks like dad and countless other dads, brothers and sisters are the very reason why we enjoy this great country. The Colonel is home now, resting among his brethren and sisters in the national Cemetery in Florence, South Carolina. Thanks, “Junior”……you left a wake, sir.