‘Rest Well, Johnny’


Waco native who was killed in Iraq given Marine’s burial

By Pamela Bond

Waco Tribune-Herald

June 21, 2007

Minerva Williams laid a single red rose on the coffin and lovingly patted her hand twice on the gleaming wood.

“Goodbye, my little boy,” she said to her grandson, Marine Lance Cpl. Johnny Ray Strong, a Waco native who died in Iraq on June 12.

Strong’s funeral was held at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Connally- Compton Funeral Directors, and he was buried at Oakwood Cemetery. Strong, 21, died “while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq,” according to the U.S. Defense Department.

“Johnny’s been deprived of years of life, and we will miss his love, laughter and affection,” said Fernando Arroya, Strong’s youth pastor. “Rest well, Johnny, you’ve touched the lives of many.”

During the service, about 150 people filled every seat and packed in to stand along the sides and back of the room. The funeral began with the national anthem, played by a quintet from Highland Baptist Church. Henry Harris, a pastor and Strong’s uncle, officiated at the ceremony.

“I remember the day Johnny told me he wanted to be a Marine,” Harris said. “I was so happy, I was walking around the house, and crying a little, because I remembered the day I told my father I wanted to be a Marine. He told me to be a good soldier. I spent some time thinking, what does it take to be a good soldier?”

Strong was based at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and was in his second tour in Iraq when he died. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the flags at the state capitol in Sacramento to be flown at half-mast in Strong’s honor.

Ruth Cassidy of Mission Waco, an organization that Strong was involved with, read Strong’s obituary and his favorite prayer, the prayer of St. Francis. In her closing remarks, she read the Marine’s Prayer.

“Praise God for the model that Johnny was,” Cassidy said. “He was this prayer. He completed this prayer.”

Strong graduated from A.J. Moore Academy in 2004. He was a member of the Junior ROTC and enlisted in the Marines his senior year. Maj. Mike Connor, a Junior ROTC instructor at A.J. Moore, spoke at Strong’s funeral.

“I can’t help but feel a little bit responsible,” Connor said. “But my wife looked at me and said: ‘Johnny did something with his life. He made something of himself.’ ”

State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, presented Strong’s family with a state flag that flew over the state capitol this week.

‘The ultimate sacrifice’

“I did not have the privilege of knowing Lance Cpl. Johnny Ray Strong,” Anderson said. “But I would have liked to. We are here today to honor a hero from right here in Waco who gave the ultimate sacrifice. He did this with the hope that the Iraqi people might one day live in freedom and so we can sleep in our beds at night in peace.”

George Simpson of the Heart of Texas Marine Corps League read a letter from Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy, declaring a memorial scholarship in Strong’s name at A.J. Moore to honor a young man who DuPuy said was “admirable . . . he never lost his nerve.”

During the funeral, Harris opened the floor for any attendees to give remarks on Strong’s life. A.J. Moore Principal Deborah Bishop spoke about her former student.

“We loved him, and we are with you today,” Bishop said to Strong’s family.

Gracie McGlauflin, a close friend of Strong’s whom he considered a part of his “second family,” read the lyrics to the song “Heaven Was Needing a Hero” by Jo Dee Messina through tears.

“Johnny knew how much we loved him,” McGlauflin said. “So I want to tell you how much we loved Johnny.One of the funniest things I’ll remember is the food fight at Steve’s [Strong’s father], and he burnt the spaghetti. I don’t remember if the water fight was before or after that.”

Pallbearers were Roy Werthen, Angelo Cavazos, Jacob Romero, Poppy Serrano, Thomas McGlauflin and Nicholas Blanchard. Honorary pallbearers were the A.J. Moore class of 2004 and Strong’s cousin, Kristopher Harris. The Patriot Guard Riders, a national group of motorcyclists who honor fallen soldiers, held U.S. flags during the funeral and burial.

At the graveyard site in Oakwood Cemetery, pipers Roger McCabe and Danny Kohl, of Waco, played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, and Henry Harris read Scripture, reciting the familiar phrase “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Strong’s burial included full military honors by the Marine Corps, including a three-rifle salute and taps. The U.S. flag draping over Strong’s coffin was folded and presented to his mother, Jacqueline Williams, and his father, Steve Strong.

‘They’re all here’

“I just want to say thanks to everybody, from me and from the family,” Steve Strong said. “Thanks to the whole town — I think they’re all here. We’ve gotten calls from people who didn’t even know Johnny. One woman, who wouldn’t tell me her name, heard about him and dropped off some food, but she accidentally left her keys, too.”

Harris encouraged friends and family to remember Strong by giving to his memorial scholarship fund.

“If you want to see this young man again, you’ll have to see him in heaven,” Harris said. “And you’ll need to make your reservations now. You never know what tomorrow brings.”

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