Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Facility remembers namesake during anniversary
August 22, 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the Vietnam Conflict, which began in 1945. United States military involvement in the Vietnam War officially began on August 5, 1964; however, the first U.S. casualty in Vietnam occurred on July 8, 1959. An estimated 2.7 million American military men and women served in Vietnam. More than 58,000 service members lost their lives and another 153,000 were wounded in Vietnam before a Presidential Proclamation brought the war to an official end on May 7, 1975.
The Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center takes its name from one brave Marine who sacrificed his own life to save several others during the war.
Pfc. Ralph H. Johnson was born January 11, 1949, in Charleston, South Carolina. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve at Oakland, California, March 23, 1967, and was discharged to enlist in the Regular Marine Corps, July 2, 1967.
In January 1968, he arrived in the Republic of Vietnam, and served as a Reconnaissance Scout with Company A, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Rein), FMF.
In the early morning hours of March 5, 1968 during Operation ROCK, Private First Class Johnson and his 15-man reconnaissance patrol manned an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Valley deep in enemy controlled territory. They were attacked by a platoon-size hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades.
As the enemy raced up the hill, a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Private Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the danger to his comrades, Pfc. Johnson shouted a warning and willingly hurled himself upon the explosive device.
When the grenade exploded, Pfc. Johnson absorbed the impact of the blast and was killed instantly. His heroic act saved the life of a fellow Marine at the cost of his own and prevented the enemy from penetrating his sector of the patrol's perimeter.
Pfc. Johnson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously. He was also awarded the Purple Heart, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Vietnamese Military Merit Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Navy Unit Commendation Medal, Civil Actions First Class and Good Conduct Marine Corps.
On September 5, 1991 the Charleston VA Medical Center was renamed the Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. To our staff and volunteers, Pfc. Johnson is much more than our namesake. He is the embodiment of the character and the values we strive to demonstrate every day as we care for those who have so bravely borne the battle.