Johnson was born May 7, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1967 and in June, 1968 was serving in Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His citation partially reads: “Specialist Johnson’s tank, upon reaching the point of contact, threw a track and became immobilized. Realizing that he could do no more as a driver, he climbed out of the vehicle, armed only with a .45 caliber pistol.
Despite intense hostile fire, Specialist Johnson killed several enemy soldiers before he had expended his ammunition. Returning to his tank through a heavy volume of antitank rocket, small arms and automatic weapons fire, he obtained a sub-machine gun with which to continue his fight against the advancing enemy. Armed with this weapon, Specialist Johnson again braved deadly enemy fire to return to the center of the ambush site where he courageously eliminated more of the determined foe.
Engaged in extremely close combat when the last of his ammunition was expended, he killed an enemy soldier with the stock end of his sub-machine gun. Now weaponless, Specialist Johnson ignored the enemy fire around him, climbed into his platoon sergeant’s tank, extricated a wounded crewmember and carried him to an armored personnel carrier. He then returned to the same tank and assisted in firing the main gun until it jammed. In a magnificent display of courage, Specialist Johnson exited the tank and again armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he engaged several North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to the vehicle. Fighting his way through devastating fire and remounting his own immobilized tank, he remained fully exposed to the enemy as he bravely and skillfully engaged them with the tank’s externally mounted .50 caliber machine gun: where he remained until the situation was brought under control.”
After his discharge from the army in 1971, Johnson had difficulty adjusting to his post war role and was diagnosed with depression caused by post-Vietnam adjustment problems. On the night of April 29, 1971, he was shot while committing armed robbery. Two plays have been written about Johnson’s life, “Strike Heaven on the Face” and “The Medal of Honor Rag.”