Ceremony honors Gwinnett's fallen heroes

LAWRENCEVILLE - Lance Cpl. Stephen Franklin Johnson, of Dacula, was the peacekeeper of his family, according to Olivia Tate, his sister. But when the World Trade Center towers fell Sept. 11, 2001, the high school sophomore knew his place would be with the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation, his mother, Lynn Johnson, said.

Johnson, 20, was killed by an improvised bomb Oct. 6 in Saqlawiyah, Iraq, 10 weeks after deployment. His name was one of three added to the Gwinnett Fallen Heroes

Memorial and unveiled during a Memorial Day ceremony.

The memorial, located at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Langley Drive in Lawrenceville, honors Gwinnett County's fallen soldiers from every U.S. war.

Army Ranger Sgt. Michael Hullender, 29, of Norcross, was killed April 28 in Iskandariyah, Iraq, by a roadside bomb while loading wounded soldiers on a helicopter for medical transport. He left behind his father, mother, two sisters and a fiancee.

Pfc. Kenneth "Aaron" Kincaid IV, 25, of Lilburn, died in Riyadh, Iraq, on Sept. 23 when a bomb exploded near the Humvee he was driving. He had been in Iraq one month. Kincaid left behind his wife, two daughters, mother and father.

"These men embraced their calling with the last beat of their hearts," Maj. Gen. (retired) Terry Juskowiak said.

About 100 people attended the Monday afternoon ceremony sponsored by county officials. The three men, along with Gwinnett's fallen heroes going back to the Revolutionary War, were given a full military ceremony by honor guards from the Gwinnett County Corrections, Fire and Emergency Services, Police and Sheriff's departments and the Lawrenceville Police Department.

"I am so proud of what Gwinnett County has done for us," Lynn Johnson said. "We had only lived in Gwinnett County three months when Stephen died."

Johnson graduated from Cobb County's Pope High School in 2005 and enlisted a few weeks later. He planned to serve four years, then work toward a college degree. Johnson was filming a documentary about Iraqi children when he died.

"He loved boot camp and excelled," said Stan Johnson, his father. "He graduated with rank and was made squadron leader. He had a bright future."

While in Iraq, Johnson always wore under his helmet a bandanna with the 91st Psalm, often called the "soldier's Psalm," printed on it.

The deaths of Hullender, Johnson and Kincaid bring to 10 the number of military personnel with Gwinnett ties who died in the "Global War on Terrorism," the phrase used on the memorial. A total of 11 names were added since 2003, when the granite monuments were erected.

"Memorial Day has a whole new meaning," Stan Johnson said.