Brown honored at memorial

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The wording on a stone at the entrance of Ed and Bonnie Brown’s home reads: If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven and bring you home again.

That says a lot about the hearts that live inside that Troy home.

The Browns lost their 21-year-old son, Army Pfc. Johnny Brown, April 14, 2003 in Iraq, less than a month after he arrived in the combat zone.

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They have some measure of comfort knowing that their son died doing exactly what he wanted to do – serve his country. But his loss has left a hole in their lives that will never be filled.

“It will always be there but every time Johnny is honored, we want to be there because it helps so much to know that others have not forgotten him,” Bonnie said.

The Browns were at Fort Campbell, Ky. on Nov. 12 when two of Fort Campbell’s brigades paid tribute to their own fallen brothers.

A sunset memorial ceremony honored 14 fallen soldiers of the 101st Sustainment Brigade who have died since Sept. 11, 2001.

Ed and Bonnie Brown and Heidi Nutt, a young widow from Massachusetts, were the only survivors to attend.

“It’s been six years and a lot can happen in that length of time and, too, some of the survivors live as far away as California,” Ed said. “We are just proud that we could be a part of the ceremony when Johnny was honored. It was very meaningful to us. Just to know that his sacrifice has not been forgotten.”

Col. Michael Peterman, commander of the sustainment brigade, paid recognition to his own fallen warriors and to all of those who have paid the highest price for freedom.

Peterman said that whenever freedom has been threatened, gallant men and women have answered the call of their country.

When Johnny Brown answered the call of his country, his parents supported him.

“He wanted to make a difference in the world,” Bonnie said.

Knowing that he did make a difference in the lives of others brings comfort to the Browns.

Julian Barnes, a reporter with US World and News Report was embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 44th Air Defense Artillery Regiment. Pfc. Brown was the Humvee driver for the company commander and Barnes often rode with them. He shared some of his memories of their son with the Browns.

“He told us that Johnny would kid him that he wasn’t ever around when the ‘good stuff’ was going on,” Ed said. “Like kicking in doors and looking for insurgents. He also told us how much pleasure Johnny got from sharing candy with the children and how he would give his water to them and watch with a smile as each one would take a sip and then pass it to another.”

Those thoughts swirled in Bonnie Brown’s head as she placed a memorial brick for her son at the monument at Fort Campbell’s brigade headquarters that honors the fallen soldiers.

“Amazing Grace” was played at Johnny Brown’s funeral and, as the familiar strains were played on bagpipes, they brought back bittersweet memories to his mom and dad. The ceremony ended with “Taps” and a 21-volley salute. Even the stoutest of patriot hearts weep at that.

“Being there brought back so many memories and renewed the loss but anytime Johnny’s honored we want to be there,” Bonnie said. Johnny Brown’s dad just nodded as he held back tears.