Johnson was born January 11, 1949 in Charleston, South Carolina. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in July, 1967.
On this date he was serving as a private first class with Company A, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His actions that day earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “during Operation Rock, First Class Johnson was a member of a fifteen-man reconnaissance patrol manning an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Valley deep in enemy controlled territory. They were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades.
Suddenly a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Private First Class Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the inherent danger to his comrades, he shouted a warning and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the explosive device. When the grenade exploded, Private First Class Johnson absorbed the tremendous impact of the blast and was killed instantly.
His prompt and heroic act saved the life of one Marine at the cost of his own and undoubtedly prevented the enemy from penetrating the sector of the patrol’s perimeter.” For his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. In 1991, The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston was named in his honor.