Stretch of highway to honor fallen Mid-Michigan hero - WNEM TV 5

Stretch of highway to honor fallen Mid-Michigan hero

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

He gave his life serving in Afghanistan and his family wanted a more permanent way to honor his sacrifice.

In order to make that happen they needed special legislation from the state.

Teri Johnson can recite the painful words spoken to her when her son's burial flag was placed in her hands.

"On behalf of a grateful nation and hand you that flag, you can't, you can't put that into words. And you never, ever forget it," said Johnson, Gold Star mother.

Army Sgt. Joe Johnson made the ultimate sacrifice in 2010 while serving in Afghanistan. The Carman-Ainsworth graduate was only 24.

"You don't get through it, but you walk with it," his mother said. "The last words he said to me, 'I love you guys, mom.' And how was I to know that two days later he'd be gone. So he gave us everything we could have asked for."

Like his many medals, Teri Johnson holds on to those memories. Memories she likes to share because it's therapeutic.

"I heard it said that a man cannot die while his name is still spoken. Joe will never die," Teri Johnson said.

She had a run-in with State Senator Jim Ananich last Memorial Day. Ananich received support from other senators to rename a portion of a Genesee County highway to honor the fallen hero.

"I'm grinning from my ear to my heart. You know, I was just thrilled that that was happening," Teri Johnson said.

Soon US-23 between Thompson and Bristol Road will be known as Sgt. Joe Johnson Memorial Highway.

"They said he was a hero and he's always been my hero," Teri Johnson said. "To me, he deserves the world. So for them to do this for him is beyond any words I can offer. All I can say is thank you."

Joe Johnson was raised in Flint and went to college at Lake Superior State, but he found his niche outside of the classroom.

He became a combat engineer in the Army doing what he loved - clearing the way for other soldiers.

"The route clearance people go ahead and they clear the route for bombs. And that's what he wanted to do and he told me one time, 'for every bomb I find mom, it saves somebody,'" Teri Johnson said.

His family celebrated his legacy at the state Capitol on March 30, 2017. The bill to name the highway after him was signed into law.

"People are going to drive on that road and they're going to see the name Sgt. Joe Johnson and maybe they'll wonder about him," Teri Johnson said.

Since his death, Joe's parents have been working hard to honor his legacy by recognizing students like him.

Teri and Dennis Johnson founded A Hero's Legacy, an organization that provides scholarships to children of wounded or fallen soldiers. The awards are not given based on grades or achievement. They are given to children like Joe who found his calling outside of the classroom.

"I love that he didn't conform. That he was never one who would just live within a box," Teri Johnson said.

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