President Franklin D. Roosevelt said following the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, “December 7, 1941 is a day that will live in infamy.” Japanese air and naval forces nearly destroyed the entire American fleet in the Pacific that day, and killed 2,403 Americans.
One of those that was killed was Fireman First Class Jim H. Johnston of Wesson, who was aboard the USS Oklahoma. The Oklahoma was badly damaged by several torpedo hits and flipped upside down. Many of the sailors on board the ship were able to escape, but 429 did not, including F1C Johnston.
Johnston’s remains were disinterred from a burial ground near Pearl Harbor and identified earlier this year by THE Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency using mitochondrial DNA analysis against the DNA of his two nephews, as well as other evidence and records.
The DPAA announced in November that Johnston’s remains were coming back to Wesson for a proper burial in his hometown. On Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 75 years to the date of his death, Johnston was interred in Wesson Cemetery with full military honors and the admiration and respect of thousands Americans throughout the community, state and nation.
Prior to Wednesday’s service, Johnston was escorted on Tuesday morning from Jackson Medgar Evers International Airport to Riverwood Funeral Home in Brookhaven by over 100 members of the Patriot Guard Riders, who rode motorcycles ahead of the hearse. The Patriot Guard Riders is “a 100% Volunteer, Federally registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization which ensures dignity and respect at memorial services honoring Fallen Military Heroes, First Responders and honorably discharged Veterans,” according to the organization’s mission statement. The organization was invited by Johnston’s family to participate. The caravan was welcomed in Copiah County at bridges along the I-55 route to Brookhaven by several hundred volunteer fire fighters and emergency personnel, and by local residents, who waved American flags and turned on emergency lights in support of the brigade.
Well over 1,500 members of the community played a role in Johnston’s service. On Tuesday evening, hundreds of American flags belonging to Billy Ray Mullins of Wesson were placed by Wesson Volunteer Fire Department along the Hwy. 51 corridor through Wesson, and along the route to the cemetery across from Wesson Attendance Center. Hundreds of Wesson area residents came out and the lined the streets in town on Wednesday in support of Johnston and waved flags. Kindergartners from Wesson Baptist Preschool joined in the honor as well. Additionally, all students at Wesson Attendance Center were allowed to stand along the route on school property and show respect for Johnston as his remains were carried to the cemetery. The gathering showed utmost respect, holding and waving flags with a quiet dignity.
The service began with a gun salute by the Naval Honor Guard followed by a performance of ‘Taps’. A pilot from the Mississippi Civilian Air Force flew over afterwards.
Navy service members perfectly and crisply folded the American flag on top of Johnston’s casket and presented it to Johnston’s oldest living relative, Frank Springs of Ellisville, who is Johnston’s nephew, by Rear Admiral Carol Lynch.
Aaron Miller, Chaplain, US Navy, performed the committal service.
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant spoke briefly, thanking everyone involved for their service.
“From a grateful state and a grateful nation, we thank you all. You are all our heroes,” Bryant stated. “May we never forget,” he added.
Springs thanked everyone at the conclusion of the service. “Thank you all for being out here today to welcome home Jim Johnston, one of your own,” he began. “This has been one of the most momentous occasions of my existence.” He showed appreciation to the Patriot Guard and to the US Navy to conclude, and those in attendance, as well as the hundreds of students watching on the hill at Wesson Attendance Center, exploded with applause.
Truly December 7, 2016 will be remembered as a proud day in the history of Wesson.