Central High School grad Ed Sizer doesn’t meet many people that he looks up to. At least not the way he admired fellow alumni Lt. William Allen “Bill” Johnson.
Fifty-eight years after graduation, Sizer still regularly tips his hat to his friend, a Navy pilot who died at age 25 in 1966 aboard the USS Oriskany.
Sizer will tip his hat again Sunday at Garinger High School as a group gathers to remember alums from Central and Garinger who died in the Vietnam War. Garinger opened in 1959 and replaced Central High School.
The 42,000-ton aircraft carrier Johnson was assigned to was in the Gulf of Tonkin, off the coast of northern Vietnam, that October when a mishap set off a fire.
The ship was saved but more than 40 people died, including Johnson. He was weeks away from finishing his tour of duty and did not survive to see the birth of his twin boys, now 49.
Johnson flew 100 missions earned an air medal for meritorious achievement and a distinguished flying cross for heroism in combat, according to his classmates.
“We don’t have many heroes these days,” Sizer said. “But Bill’s a true hero. He will always be a hero.”
Johnson’s name and those of two other Garinger High grads – Royd Steve Kerley Jr. and Robert Harold Pettit – have now been added to a nearly 2-year-old Vietnam Veterans Memorial that was created at Garinger for the school’s 50th anniversary in 2014.
Cpl. Pettit, a Charlotte native, was a rifleman for the U.S. Marine Corps with the First Battalion, Ninth Marine Regiment, Third Marine Division, III Marine Amphibious Force. He died from small arms fire at age 22 on April 5, 1967, in the Thua Thien Province in South Vietnam.
Kerley, whose rank was specialist four, was a radio teletype operator and served with the U.S. Army’s 11th Armored Calvary. The Charlotte native’s death, like Pettit's, was listed as a ground casualty. He suffered multiple fragment wounds on April 17, 1967, in Long Khanh Province of South Vietnam. He was 20.
Johnson is so far the only Central High grad named on the memorial. The memorial was originally dedicated to 15 Garinger graduates.
The names of other local veterans might be added if their graduation and service records can be verified. That can take time, said Don Thompson, a Garinger graduate and one of the memorial’s organizers.
“You’re going back 40 something years to confirm that someone has attended a school,” he said.
The Garinger Education Foundation created the monument and a scholarship fund for Garinger students. The foundation has given $2,500 scholarships in each of the 15 veterans’ names for the past two years to keep alive their stories and contributions. Now three additional scholarships will be added.
“It’s a very gratifying thing to tell the story of young men who died for their country,” said Larry Walker, who also helped to make the monument a reality. “All of them did that.”
Karen Sullivan: 704-358-5532, @Sullivan_kms
Garinger High Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Three new names will be added to the existing 15 on Garinger High School’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The service will be in front of the school at 2 p.m. Sunday, 1100 Eastway Drive. The service will be moved indoors if it rains.