Bases, roads, hospitals and so much more are essential to the military’s operations and the soldiers responsible for constructing them are often overlooked. Much of their efforts are done under hostile enemy fire and can be just as dangerous as any other soldier’s duty. This is one of those cases.
David Johnson (1857-1920), relocated from Guernsey County to Tuscarawas County in the last decade of the 19th century. He set up his household, along with his wife Amelia Neuhart (1858-1946) near the active coal mines in the county in which he labored. The family, with its nine children, eventually settled in the village of Tuscarawas. His second youngest son Mancel Johnson (1899-1972) worked in the mines as well, though most often he found himself mining clay. After marrying Helen Kopp (1892-1972) around 1920, they welcomed their first son Leslie.
The Johnson family had been living in Tuscarawas County for almost fifty years when Leslie T. Johnson (1921-2008) married Sylvia Dawson (1922-1992) in 1947. Leslie had recently returned from service in Germany with the United States Army, and within a year of their marriage they were blessed with their first child, Thomas Alan Johnson (1948-1967). A second son would follow in 1949, Philip Ray Johnson (1949-2006).
Thomas attended school at Tuscarawas High School where he played baseball, took part in the Spanish Club, and teachers remembered him as “quiet, well behaved, and well liked.” Thomas worked part-time at the Tuscarawas Sales & Service gas station on Cherry Street and was active at the Sharon Moravian Church. Following his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was on his way to Parris Island, South Carolina for basic training in July 1966.
Following his completion of basic training, Thomas was assigned to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Here he trained to serve as a Marine combat engineer equipment operator in preparation for his deployment to Vietnam. Thomas completed his training at Camp Lejeune in early February 1967 and was subsequently assigned to Camp Pendleton, California and Okinawa before he finally arrived in Vietnam at Da Nang on March 8, 1967.
Thomas was assigned to Company C, 3rd Shore Party Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division that was then operating in Quang Tri Province right along the line between North and South Vietnam (see map above). Company C was providing logistical support to Marines based at Con Thien, one of the northernmost outposts. Thomas and the rest of Company C, among a number of other tasks, were working on cutting a road from the base towards another outpost.
During the early morning hours of May 8, 1967 the North Vietnamese targeted nearly 300 rounds of mortar and artillery fire at Con Thien, while other troops used explosives to break through the base’s perimeter wire. This well-organized attack fell primarily on the northern edge of the base and soldiers of both sides engaged in ferocious hand-to-hand combat there. Con Thien’s Marine and Army defenders, though heavily outnumbered, were finally able to fight off the North Vietnamese attack. After six hours of combat and shelling, at 9:00 that morning, the North Vietnamese forces had withdrawn.
The Marines who fought at Con Thien on May 8, 1967 suffered 44 killed and 110 wounded. Among the brave men who fell that day was Thomas Alan Johnson, killed during the initial artillery and mortar barrage. Thomas was buried at Sharon Moravian Cemetery with full military honors.
© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.