TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Hawaiian shirts brightened the Tompkins County Legislative Chambers at Tuesday’s meeting in a tribute to Army Sgt. James Johnston, who died June 25 while on duty in Afghanistan. Introducing a resolution to honor his sacrifice, Legislator Anne Koreman said Johnston brightened the lives of those who knew him.

“He was very smart, he rose very quickly through the ranks of the Army. And most importantly he was compassionate. He cared for his family, he cared for his community,” Koreman said.

Sgt. James G. Johnston, explosive ordnance disposal specialist, 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) (Courtesy of Fort Hood Press Center)

Johnston, 24, graduated in 2013 from Charles O. Dickerson High School in Trumansburg before enlisting in the U.S. Army. During his six years of service he was assigned to the 79th Ordnance Battalion (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), part of the 71st Ordnance Group at Fort Hood, Texas, and served as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist. He died of injuries sustained from small arms fire while engaged in combat in Uruzgan Province.

Tuesday, Koreman was flanked by Johnston’s family as the county legislature passed a resolution recognizing Johnston’s service and extending condolences to his family, including his wife, parents and parents-in-law.

“The members of the Tompkins County Legislature, on behalf of all of the people of Tompkins County, hereby express their heartfelt condolences to Krista Johnston and to all the members of the family of Sgt. James G. Johnston for their terrible loss,” Koreman read.

The resolution cites Johnston’s distinguished service at home and abroad, including Army tours in Korea and Afghanistan and his role as a member of the Enfield Fire Department.

Johnston’s father-in-law, Fred Vanderzee, said Jamie, as he was known to friends and family, would have been embarrassed by all the attention. “If he was here today he would be hiding,” Vanderzee said, “He hated to be out in public, but I’m glad to see it.”

Vanderzee said Johnston loved his country and his family. “He was a beautiful person,” he said.

In July, the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office presented Johnston’s family with the Champion Award at a meeting of the legislature’s Public Safety Committee.

“When we created this award program, we wanted to highlight those who performed a heroic act, saved a life, or promoted public safety. Never did we anticipate recognizing someone for making the ultimate sacrifice. Sgt. Johnston gave up his life at the very young age of 24, standing up for our nation’s ideals and safeguarding our freedoms,” Sheriff Derek Osborne said at the ceremony.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered flags flown at half-staff following Johnston’s death in June. In a statement, Cuomo said, “His death is a reminder of the sacrifices members of the military make to protect the freedoms and the values that this state and this nation were founded upon.”

In a statement issued by the Department of Defense, Lt. Col. Stacy M. Enyeart, commander of Johnston’s battalion, said, “It is with a heavy heart that we mourn the passing of Sergeant James Johnston. He was the epitome of what we as Soldiers all aspire to be: intelligent, trained, always ready. We will honor his service and his sacrifice to this nation as we continue to protect others from explosive hazards around the world.”

While in the Army, Johnston earned numerous awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Korea Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, Senior Explosive Ordnance Disposal Badge and Explosive Ordnance Badge.

His family said Tuesday that they were grateful for the local recognition.

Featured image: Legislators and members of Johnston’s family wore Hawaiian shirts in his honor at Tuesday’s meeting. (Devon Magliozzi/Ithaca Voice)

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at or 607-391-0328.