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Sgt. Gary Johnston

(reprinted from TimesRecordNews.com, January 24, 2007)

Windthorst Marine killed in line of duty

By Lara K. Richards/Times Record News
January 24, 2007

Windthorst has lost a beloved son, a brave soldier.

Marine Gary Johnston, a 2003 Windthorst High School graduate, has been killed in the line of duty.

The U.S. Marine Corps would not comment and could not release details surrounding his death, a spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon.

Parents J.B. "Nubbin" and Angela Johnston were notified Tuesday, friends and family members confirmed. The family declined to comment Tuesday evening.

The loss sent a wave of sadness across the tight-knit community of Windthorst in Archer County.

Longtime Windthorst football coach Bill Green said that Johnston was not only a standout player, but a standout individual.

"Whenever he decided that's the route he was going to take (joining the military), we immediately thought, 'He'll make a good soldier.' It's just the type of person that he is," Green said.

"He's the kind of kid you'd want in your squad. He's a kid that I'd want in my huddle."

Windthorst High School teacher Dee Coppage said that she wasn't surprised when she learned Johnston had joined the military.

"There was something very true blue about him, almost gallant," she said. "He was very steady. You could count on him. He was very responsible and he was willing, always willing to do anything you needed."

Johnston always pushed himself to achieve more, she said.

"He was someone who wanted to do the best," Coppage said. "He always wanted to do better, and he wanted to do the next thing better."

Johnston made all-district his senior year, when he played on both sides of the ball as a linebacker and fullback.

He was named to the Times Record News Red River 22 team on the defensive line. That year, he recorded 91 tackles for the Trojans.

"I've been here 13 years, and I would say he would fall in the top 10 in the linebacker category," Green said when comparing Johnston to others he has coached. "He was known for his tenacity and hitting ability."

Green said Johnston showed the same dedication on the field as he did off.

"He participated in football like he did everything else in his life," he said. "He took a professional approach at it. He never missed practice. He was here all the time. He worked hard every day. He was just a super kid, and comes from a super family."

Everyone has fond memories of Johnston.

Coppage said she remembered his long, long legs stretched out into the aisle by his desk in the classroom.

"One of the other teachers said he was a true gentleman," she said. "I remember that he had this slow, sweet smile and I don't remember ever seeing him in a bad mood. He was just always very quiet, but he was a constant presence."

Johnston excelled on the football field, and Green said he still remembers one game in particular held at Memorial Stadium in Wichita Falls.

"We were behind and he hadn't caught many passes. We had 90 yards to go for a touchdown and we completed about a 70-yard pass to Gary," Green said. "It was a great catch; he had to really reach out to get it."

Both Green and Coppage said the Windthorst community was feeling the heartache of losing one of its own.

Tear-stained eyes walked down the Windthorst ISD hallways all day and all over town Tuesday.

"Everybody has watched these kids grow up and see them come through school. You watch them grow into men," he said. "It sends ripples throughout the entire community, the whole school."

"This really brings the war ... home. It makes it more personal," he said.

Coppage said it was obvious that Johnston was honored to be a Marine.

"He was just so proud, and part of that pride, I think, was that he was serving the country," she said.