COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - A Midlands veteran is headed to the Big Apple to take part in one of the biggest Veterans Day parades in the country.
Retired staff sergeant Darius Johnson of Lexington will be among the 30,000-people walking in this year’s national parade happening on Sunday in New York City.
The honor comes after an injury during a deployment to Afghanistan.
“It was scary. It was my first deployment – a lot of combat situations. Wow. Mind blowing,” Johnson said.
In 2011, Johnson says he was with a group of soldiers who were escorting an Afghan police troop when they were ambushed.
Surrounded by improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, Johnson says the last thing he remembers is, “my first sergeant, First Sergeant Edwell, tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘come on J, let’s go,’ and he stepped on an IED and it blew him up and caught me on the way up. That’s how I lost my arm.”
Two people, including First Sergeant Edwell were killed. Johnson says he had to wait on the scene for nearly six hours before being rescued.
“30% of my body was burned, fractured jaw, punctured lung, some brain damage and I lost my left arm,” Johnson explained.
After an active life in the military, adjusting to life with one arm has not been easy for the retired staff sergeant.
“Thought this was kind of like my identity, not just my army but the whole of me was my identity and by this being gone who am I now? I found it harder and harder to just deal with life period. I was going to work, putting my head on the steering wheel at work like what am I doing here, what am I doing, and I just wasn’t happy,” Johnson recounted.
He will join a contingent from UCLA Health Operation Mend, a Los Angeles-based program that provides specialty health care services to service members or veterans injured in the line of duty (combat or training) post 9-11.
“It just helped me get some tools and ways of coping with some of the struggles that I was dealing with. Was trying to find an answer to why, like why did this happen to me, and after going through the program it helped me to identify what that answer was for me,” Johnson said.
Operation Mend has invited Johnson to walk among many other vets in the New York City Veterans Day Parade this Sunday.
“I’m still struggling with some things. So, me seeing other people that have gone through some of the same things that I’ve gone through is a plus for me,” Johnson said.
He is leaving for New York on Thursday with his mom, who took part in Operation Mend with him. They say it was so helpful to be a part of program that included the caregiver, too.