HOOPER — Taking in his surroundings — his new home in Hooper — Brian Johnston summed it up succinctly.
“Nicest home I ever lived in,” he said.
On Wednesday, Johnston, who lost an arm and a leg in an attack in 2004 while deployed with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, moved into the home, which was a gift of the New York-based Tunnel to Towers Foundation. It’s been a long road for Johnston, 38, who faced around 60 operations and two years of treatment at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after the 2004 attack. But the new home, he hopes, will be his last.
“It’s far more than I ever expected,” said Johnston, who will be vacating an apartment in Woods Cross. “There’s no reason to ever move out of a house like this.”
Representatives from the nonprofit Tunnel to Towers group were on hand for a ceremony at Hooper City Hall ahead of delivery of the home to mark the occasion. About 120 well-wishers attended, including Johnston family members, members from many businesses and organizations that contributed to the home’s construction and others. The Tunnel to Towers Foundation, formed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, helps military service members wounded in action and the survivors of service members killed in action, known as Gold Star families.
Jack Oehm, a member of the Tunnel to Towers board, praised Johnston, saying the home is way of trying to pay him back for his military service. “It’s the least we should do for people that sacrifice so much for our freedom,” he said.
Jennie Taylor, widow of Brent Taylor, the late North Ogden mayor who was killed last year while serving with the Utah Army National Guard in Afghanistan, was also on hand for Wednesday’s activities. The Tunnel To Towers Foundation paid off the mortgage on the Taylor home.
“I’m grateful for what you’ve done, grateful for how you’ve persevered,” Taylor told Johnston.
The new three-bedroom home was wrapped with a red ribbon and the road in front of it was lined with U.S. flags for Wednesday’s ceremony. It’s equipped with many features meant to accommodate Johnston’s physical condition.
Johnston grew up in East Hartford, Connecticut, and enlisted in the Marines in late 2001. His mother, Vera Heron, now lives in Riverton and his brother, Kevin Johnston, a detective in the West Valley City Police Department, lives in Syracuse, which drew him to Utah. As for Hooper, he said the look and feel of the land where his new home sits drew him to the location, on the periphery of the city. It was one of a handful of sites for the home that he considered.
“It’s flat. It’s open. It’s not to far from society,” he said.
‘GO FORWARD WITH
Interest in the military drew Brian Johnston to the Marines. His dad, Bruce Johnston, and brother, Kevin Johnston, also served in the Marines. “I was tired of changing oil, so I went and talked to the recruiter and six months later I was in boot camp,” he said.
He said the incident that cost him his right arm and right leg occurred on Nov. 8, 2004, in Fallujah, Iraq, then the focus of fierce fighting between U.S. forces and Iraqi insurgents during the war there. He was on top of a vehicle when an IED beside the roadway detonated, changing his life. He has a prosthetic leg and spends about half the time in a wheelchair, but the incident 15 years ago isn’t something he dwells on.
“There’s inherent risk to joining the Marine Corps infantry so when you get injured it can’t really be that much of a surprise,” he said.
Heron noted her son’s attitude in comments at the Hooper City Hall ceremony. In talking with other injured soldiers as he recuperated, he’d advise them to keep moving in their lives, that nothing could be done to change the past. “Wow, what an attitude and that is the attitude Brian has had,” Heron said.
Numerous fellow Marines from his company died in a helicopter crash subsequent to the IED attack, said his stepmother, Marianne Johnston, which added to Brian Johnston’s perspective. “He has always said that he was the lucky one because he wasn’t with his (fellow Marines) who died in the crash,” she said.
Indeed, Kevin Johnston said his brother remains forward looking. “It is what it is and he’s not going to let it hold him back. He can’t change the IED... He’s determined to go forward with his life,” he said.
The Tunnel to Towers Foundation is also building a home in Huntsville for Travis Vendela, a U.S. Army sergeant who lost both legs in a 2007 attack while serving in Iraq.