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Veterans remember Vietnam soldier
Vietnam veterans who served in the same battalion as Pickerington resident Dave Johnston will gather Memorial Day weekend in Pickerington to commemorate the lives of their fallen comrade.
The Pickerington American Legion is named after Johnston, who died in the Vietnam War May 3, 1969. About seven years ago, Earhart connected with a member of Johnston’s battalion who was looking for information about Johnston.
The veterans, who are coming from as far as California and Canada, served in Mike Company, First Division, Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, said Terry Earhart, second vice commander and commander of the honor guard at the David A. Johnston American Legion Post 283.
“They knew Dave had been killed in action, but didn’t know what happened to him afterward,” Earhart said.
Earhart said two or three members of the battalion contacted the Ohio Governor’s Office to find information about him after the war, but were unsuccessful in locating him. Johnston’s best friend from Mike Company had been searching for where he was buried since early 2000.
Earhart had stumbled across an article on the Internet about the Marines’ efforts to find where Johnston was buried. The article said members had tried to find where Johnston had been buried for years, but couldn’t find him, even after members took a trip to Ohio. Johnston had a Canal Winchester address, but attended Pickerington High School, adding to the confusion, he said.
“I found one of the guys on the Internet,” Earhart said. “When I saw the story I sent him an email.”
Johnston’s friend, Rocco Giambrocco, was going to ride his Harley Davidson to the Vietnam Memorial and at that point give up on finding his comrade, Earhart said. He sent Giambrocco an email with Dave Johnston as the subject line.
“He responded three days later, ‘I received your email and my hand is shaking as I type this,’” Earhart said. “He came down on Memorial Day 2007. He was wearing a Marine Corps baseball hat so I could identify him.”
That year, four guys traveled to Pickerington for Memorial Day to celebrate their fallen comrade. Since then, the number of veterans who reunite has grown to more than 30. This year, they will be joined by at least six more members.
“Four of those guys have not seen anyone since they left Vietnam,” Earhart said. “They come here because Dave’s name is on the door.”
Members of the company travel from all across the country for the Memorial Day weekend of activities, Earhart said.
“It is supposed to be the most decorated unit that spent more time in combat in Vietnam,” Earhart said. “They were a highly decorated and storied unit in Vietnam.”
Virginia resident Ed Browder first became acquainted with Mike Company when his Marine unit, First Force Recon, was called in to retrieve three fallen Marines after a hard-fought battle.
“Three men who were killed were left behind because of fierce enemies, placement and the fire they camp up against,” he said.
The First Force Recon unit was assigned three members of Mike Company to show them where the fallen were left. It was precarious at the time to retrieve the bodies with all the action going on, he said. Browder ended up a platoon commander for Mike Company.
He says the Memorial Day celebration is “absolutely fantastic” and members of Mike Company were drawn to Pickerington because they served together in combat.
“We were adopted by the Dave Johnston American Legion Post,” he said. “They treat us better than family. We get more excited each year.”
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