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NEWS | Sept. 24, 2012

JBSA-Fort Sam Houston bids farewell to retired Army leader

By Staff Sgt. Keith Anderson U.S. Army North Public Affairs

A solemn funeral procession with Army North's military caisson Soldiers on horseback and honor guard members slowly made their way to the pavilion Sept. 10 as family, friends and loved ones began to say their goodbyes to an honored Army leader.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Johnny Johnston was interred at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery Sept. 10; before retiring on Jan. 1, 1988, he served a 35-year infantry career in the Army that began as a draftee in the Korean War.

Johnston is survived by his wife of 63 years, Beverly Hale Johnston; his son, Greg Johnston; his daughter, Katherine Pittman; and eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The ceremony with full military honors included the procession with the caisson, honor guard and "Fort Sam's Own" 323rd Army Band, 15 volleys from the Salute Battery, a 21-gun salute and a brief interment ceremony at the pavilion.

"The Soldiers were superb," said Greg Johnston. "Dad was drafted; he was one of them. While he didn't like a lot of pomp and circumstance, it meant a lot for the family."

Johnston said he was very pleased with how the Fort Sam Houston contingent honored his father.

Army North's Caisson and Military Honors Platoon is one of only two such units in the Department of Defense. It performs memorial affairs missions at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery and supports local events, such as Fiesta San Antonio.

The only other such unit is the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment Old Guard, which conducts memorial affairs missions at the Arlington National Cemetery and the dignified transfers at Dover Air Force Base.

"We are supporting with honor," said Capt. Eduardo Figueroa, commander, Headquarters Support Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army North. "This is a big mission for us - and it an honor to serve those who have served and sacrificed."

The unique group of infantry Soldiers in the Caisson and Military Honors Platoon became part of the Army North's HSC, HHBn on Sept. 4.

"As a first sergeant, I am extremely proud to be part of a great organization that is rich in history and great leadership; and now, with the military honors platoon being a part of Army North, with its homeland mission, it is a natural fit," said 1st Sgt. Anthony Walls, HSC. "Army North gains an additional mission capability for the Fort Sam Houston senior commander, and the Honors platoon and Caisson benefit from the ability of Army North to support its military funeral honors missions."

The opportunity for Soldiers to work in one of the more unique jobs in the Army is a welcome one.

Sgt. Tony Holmes, caisson team leader, said working with horses is very different from his usual duties as an infantryman.

"The mission is definitely challenging," said Holmes, a native of Allen, Texas. "You're dealing with animals that have their own brains. It is an honor to provide this service for our military veterans."

Holmes became part of the unit after being granted a compassionate reassignment to Fort Sam Houston to facilitate medical treatment for his son.

Pfc. Riley Camill, an imagery analyst at the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, augmented to the honor guard for Johnston's interment. She said the special duty was meaningful for her.

"It's important, and it's an honor to pay respects to those who have previously served," said Camill, a native of Live Oak, Fla.

This unique mission doesn't just give greater meaning to those who support it but also to Army North as well.

The addition of the memorial affairs missions for Army North benefits both the unit and the community, said Lt. Col. Zoltan Krompecher, commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, U.S. Army North.

"Memorial affairs missions are a unique and important part of our Army heritage," Krompecher said. "It really is an honor to have the Caisson and Military Honors Platoon join the Army North family. This is 'Military City, U.S.A.,' and the addition of the unit enables Army North to better serve area veterans and the community."