America lost another decorated military veteran last month.
A trumpeter played “Taps” following a rifle salute at the funeral of Master Sgt. Verlon Johnson before he was interred in his final resting place at Barrancas National Cemetery in Pensacola Oct. 23.
“I thought it was very lovely,” said his wife, Maureen, a Santa Rosa Beach resident.
Johnson, 76, joined the U.S. Army at the age of 16 in 1952, and served his country in Vietnam and Korea before retiring in 1974. During his nearly 22-year career in the U.S. Special Forces as a Green Beret, he became a highly decorated combat parachutist, with two purple hearts, a bronze star, and eight other medals of valor in his career with the 101st Airborne.
When Ivan struck the Gulf Coast in 2004, the Johnsons’ Santa Rosa Beach home, which sits a block up from the Bay, was totally flooded.
In the deluge, Johnson lost all of his medals, all of his military service pictures, and two books in which he was remembered as a war hero.
All that was left as a reminder of his service in the Green Berets was his circa-1970s uniform jacket.
This past July, however, thanks to the help of family friend Kay Coffeen, 10 reminders of his military service were delivered to the Johnson home, including all but a single purple heart.
“I’m glad he got to see them before he passed away,” said Maureen, whose husband had suffered for years from complications of a stroke. “They came just in time.” Johnson died Oct. 15.
Maureen did not meet her future husband until after his military career had ended, but she knew how important these were to him.
“We met in Saudi Arabia,” she said. “I may as well tell people we met on the moon.”
While Verlon Johnson was joining up, the future Mrs. Johnson, a native of Lincolnshire, England, was going to school to become a radiation therapist. After a two-decade stint working at a British hospital, she followed an advertisement to a faraway land, and landed in 1976 Saudi Arabia to be a radiation therapist.
This was two years after Johnson had retired and moved to the country to train Saudi Arabian National Guardsmen.
“We met at a pool party; he was the lifeguard,” said Maureen, who remembered his six-foot stature and muscled arms. She smiled, saying she “didn’t go out with him straightaway.”
He eventually won her over, and the couple married and purchased a lot in Santa Rosa Beach on which they would later retire in 1987.
It was there V.F.W. Verlon Johnson succumbed to a longtime sickness this past October.
Johnson is survived by Maureen, and six children, as well as a number of grandchildren.
Though his wife only knew Johnson when his military service was a memory, she understood the importance of his burial in a military cemetery.
With Arlington National Cemetery full, Johnson decided the Green Beret would be laid to rest closer to his Northwest Florida home.
The sun was shining at Johnson’s late-October military funeral at Barrancas. Vietnam vet Charles Moore gave the eulogy for his fellow-serviceman.
Two military members stood at attention at either side of the casket to act as pallbearers, and they folded up the flag to present it to the veteran’s widow.
“When they presented the flag, he knelt on the floor while they played Taps,” said Maureen. “I’ve never seen them do that before.”
The song, which has become indicative of military funerals, was trumpeted after a rifle salute to send off the decorated vet.
Later that afternoon, Johnson was laid to rest in hallowed ground among other military heroes at Barrancas National Cemetery.
His wife remarked, “It was a moving service.”