It took 57 years for Pfc. Charles Johnson to be recognized for his heroism on Outpost Harry during the Korean War. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 2010 for his actions on June 12, 1953. On Tuesday, Johnson was again honored during a special ceremony on Fort Stewart that was attended by his sister and two survivors of Outpost Harry.
Johnson, who served with the 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, was remembered by his sister, Dr. Juanita Johnson Mendez, along with his high-school buddy, Don Dingee, and another OP Harry survivor, David Mills. The fitness center for the 3rd ID’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team now bears Johnson’s name.
Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division and Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield, began the ceremony by saying it was only fitting that a “first-class facility” like the 4th IBCT’s fitness center should be named for a “first-class soldier.” Murray acknowledged Johnson’s sister and her husband, Dr. Garry Mendez, and thanked them for attending the ceremony. He then thanked Dingee and Mills for what they had “done and continue to do” for this country.
“Charlie died saving my life,” Dingee said. “In fact, he saved my life twice. An artillery round had hit our bunker, knocking us out. When I woke up, I moved to the doorway, but a Chinese soldier threw a grenade in the bunker. I knew I only had a few seconds to find it and throw it out. As I stumbled around in the dark, I stepped on it. At the moment I realized my foot was on it, it blew me back against the wall.
“I came to when I felt a hand across my mouth. It was Charlie telling me not to move or say anything because the enemy was coming in the bunker. They thought we were dead but stuck (Cpl. Robert) Hooker anyway with a bayonet. Then they took our weapons and left.”
Dingee said Johnson first checked to see if Hooker was still alive. He dressed Hooker’s wounds with strips of cloth from his uniform. He said Johnson then used his belt to tie up his shattered foot. Against constant enemy fire, Dingee said Johnson dragged him to another bunker 150 yards away as Hooker walked there ahead of them. They found two unconscious soldiers at that bunker and four more wounded soldiers at a nearby bunker.
Because the Chinese had taken their weapons, Johnson again went out to locate weapons for his comrades. After returning, Dingee said Johnson left the bunker one more time to face the enemy that was overrunning their position.
“He said, ‘I’ve got to protect y’all,’” Dingee said, getting slightly choked up.
Johnson’s body was recovered the following day, he said.
“There aren’t words to describe this day,” Mendez said, as she recalled how her brother’s family, friends and fellow soldiers had struggled to get recognition for Johnson’s heroic actions. “It’s just unbelievable, really, that this has finally come to fruition. The fact that people haven’t forgotten him is understandable because he was an unforgettable person. If someone needed help, he was there for them.”
She said her brother had always wanted to be a football star, both in high school and during the one semester he attended Howard University. The scholarship he had didn’t cover all the cost of his education, so he was forced to drop out and go home. Then in 1952, he was drafted.
Referring to the Silver Star medal on the sign unveiled as part of the ceremony, Mendez said her brother now has the star he deserved. She said she was the youngest of six children. Two other siblings had also served in the military, she said.
Mills said he didn’t know Johnson, but he knew the type of fight he was up against at OP Harry. He said their orders were to “hold at all costs.”
“I was captured on Outpost Harry about a month or so before Charlie was killed there,” Mills said. “The Chinese came and visited us frequently. They loved us. But we held out, thanks to our infantry and artillery.”
A narrator reading the account of the fight for OP Harry said that on June 11, 1953, the night before Johnson was killed, 300 men from the 15th Inf. Regt. defended the outpost against waves of 3,000 Chinese soldiers. Only 30 survived. The outpost was reinforced the next day for another attack, which came with 3,600 North Korean and Chinese soldiers. The defenders held their position, nonetheless, and the enemy was finally driven back June 18, 1953. Mills was repatriated in August after the peace treaty was signed.