When I was a boy, about 50 years ago now, there was an outstanding football player in my hometown of Tallahassee. Johnnie Stephens was not real big but nonetheless excelled at football and baseball for Leon High School. Later, he played center for Florida State University under Coach Bill Peterson and served occasionally as team captain. His career as a Tallahassee football hero ended in 1966. However, just two and a half years later, on the morning of April 22, 1969, U.S. Army Lieutenant Johnnie P. Stephens, Jr., age twenty-three, became an American hero. He was leading his platoon on a mission near the village of Duc Tan, in northern South Vietnam, when he was killed in action. Thus, “in a faraway land, the life of one of Tallahassee’s most overachieving athletes came to an untimely end.”* I remember the sadness many of us at Leon High, at FSU, and in the city felt at that time to hear of Johnnie’s death. I was in 11th grade at that time and Johnnie had been a personal football hero of mine when I was younger. I will not forget him. Today, Johnnie’s name is on The Wall and we honor him and the hundreds of thousands of other young Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. —John 15:13
(*My thanks to Jim Joanos- see: http://nolefan.org/garnet/garnet35.html)