Remains of US Army Sgt. La David Johnson return to Miami

Pregnant widow mourns over soldier's coffin draped in US flag

MIAMI – The body of Sgt. La David Johnson, the soldier from Miami Gardens who was working with an elite U.S. Army Special Forces unit when he died in northwestern Africa, returned to South Florida about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday. 

WATCH: Sgt. Johnson's body returns to Miami in emotional homecoming

President Donald Trump spoke to his wife, Myeshia Johnson for about five minutes. U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Florida, said Trump told the distraught widow Johnson "knew what he was signing up for...but when it happens, it hurts anyway."

"Yeah, he said that," Wilson said. "So insensitive. He should have not have said that. He shouldn't have said it." 

Johnson's family -- including his 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter -- were at Miami International Airport waiting for the Delta Airlines flight that was bringing the casket with his remains. The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department welcomed him with a water salute. 

The widow, who is expecting their third baby in January, leaned over the U.S. flag that was draping his casket. Her pregnant belly was shaking as she sobbed uncontrollably. Their daughter stood next to her stoically. Their toddler waited in the arms of a relative.

There was silence. Local politicians, police officers and firefighters lined up to honor him for his service and for the efforts and discipline that got the former Walmart employee to defy all odds as a 25-year-old member of the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The procession traveled from Miami-Dade County to Broward County. After moving eastbound on State Road 112, northbound traffic was closed on Interstate 95. Police officers and firefighters saluted their American hero. Some held their hands on their chest and there were tears. The procession arrived at the Fred Hunters Funeral Home in Hollywood about 6:25 p.m.

His body will remain there until a public viewing from 4 to 8 p.m., Friday, and a funeral service from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, at the Christ The Rock Church, 11000 Stirling Rd., in Cooper City. The interment will be a the Hollywood Memorial Gardens, 3001 N. 72 St.

Johnson was fighting alongside Green Berets when he died. The group, which included a Nigerien patrol, didn't have U.S. overhead armed air cover when Islamic militants ambushed them Oct. 4 near the Niger border with Mali.  

Johnson was left behind when French forces' helicopters scrambled to evacuate the soldiers, and it took nearly two days for Nigerien forces to find his body in the desert of the landlocked nation, according to the U.S. Africa Command

His "Bush Hog formation was made better because of Johnson's faithful service, and we are focused on caring for the Johnson family during this difficult period," Lt. Col. David Painter, commander of 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group, said in a statement.

The U.S. military held a return of remains ceremony when Johnson's body arrived at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware Oct. 7, while President Donald Trump was playing golf with Sen. Lindsey Graham. 

U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, was at Miami International Airport when Johnson's body arrived Tuesday. She said she wanted to know why the chain of command failed to anticipate "even the possibility of an ambush" and equip Johnson to fight against militants affiliated with ISIS.

Johnson's awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Bade, the Driver and Mechanic Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge. He also participated in operations with the Canadian Armed Forces and received Canadian Parachutist Wings.

Johnson, who was affectionately known as "Tee" at Miami Carol City Senior High School, was formerly known by thousands on social media as the "Wheelie King 305." He graduated from ATI Career Training Center. And he was also a member of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, a mentorship program Wilson founded in 1993. 

She said other members of the program were mourning Johnson's death at the hands of ISIS-affiliated militants. 

"It is unwise to underestimate under any circumstances their bloodthirsty and deadly force ... We need to know the truth and we need to know it now," Wilson said in a statement. 

When enemy fighters attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns Oct. 4, Johnson and the others were in unarmored pickup trucks, according to a U.S. official who talked to CNN.  After he was left behind, Johnson was able to activate his military beacon, but the U.S. military couldn't track him before the signal faded, according to a U.S. officials who talked to NBC News.  

According to officials with the Department of Defense the other three victims of the attack were Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35, of Puyallup, Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Georgia.

About the Authors:

Sanela Sabovic joined Local 10 News in September 2012 as an assignment editor and associate producer. In August 2015, she became a full-time reporter and fill-in traffic reporter. Sanela holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications with a concentration in radio, television and film from DePaul University.

Glenna Milberg joined Local 10 News in September 1999 to report on South Florida's top stories and community issues. She also serves as co-host on Local 10's public affairs broadcast, "This Week in South Florida."