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Spc. Jackson Davis Johnson wanted to be a Soldier since he was in kindergarten. He enlisted early and completed his basic training between his junior and senior years in high school.

“He called me when he got on the bus and said, ‘Mom, thank you for signing the paper for me to do this earlier. I got this,’” Tonya Shockley, his mother, said.

Johnson would frequently tell his mother I got this. It was kind of like a catchphrase almost.

Johnson’s job was to escort equipment and people while he was deployed to the Middle East.

One day in 2019, while Johnson was riding with some other Soldiers, a fully-loaded water truck turned into oncoming traffic down a one-way street. The driver of Johnson’s vehicle tried to veer off the road to avoid the accident, but the driver of the water truck hit the gas instead of the brake and ended up t-boning Johnson’s vehicle, according to his mother.

Johnson died on the way to the operating room.

“I try to be like ‘OK, I’ve got this,’” Shockley said. “There was a period of time after he passed away that I didn’t have this. I was not in a good place at all.

“And one day, I had to just wake up and sit down and look at the whole picture. The whole picture being that had my son lived, he would have been confined to a nursing home for the rest of his life.

“His injuries were very extensive. They brought him back twice. And the third time that you know, he coded, he was only a few feet from the OR, and they couldn’t get him back that time.

“If they had gotten him back, he would have been high-flow oxygen. He would have been a tube-feeder. He would have never walked again.

“He wouldn’t be able to talk. He would not be the child that turned loose in the world. And he would be confined to a life that he didn’t want.”

Johnson spent his life thinking of others. The reason he joined the military was to help people who couldn’t help themselves, according to his mother. It’s a trait he probably got from his mother, who works as a certified nurse.

Today Shockley works to keep her son’s memory alive in a number of ways.

On his birthday each year she makes his favorite dinner, homemade fried chicken, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.

She tries to laugh more.

Memorial Day has taken on a new meaning.

“Memorial Day is not about the barbecues. It’s not about swimming. It’s not about the beginning of summer. It’s about those that left this country to go help somebody else and didn’t come home,” she said.

Shockley said losing her son was the most painful thing she’s ever endured. She gave birth to Johnson a week after she turned 20 and said in a way, the two of them grew up together.

“He is the child that made me grow up and think of others more than myself,” she said.

Shockley said the Survivor’s Outreach Services and TAPS programs had helped her with the emotional aspects that come with losing a child. She also said there’s a group called Cole’s Comrades that is for anyone who lost someone who was in the armed forces, “whether it’s a veteran the war followed home or someone KIA like my son.”

And she added the Gold Star Mothers chapter “are amazing.”

“These women know how to help when it all seems to fall apart,” she said.

Shockley said Johnson put God first, service second and his family third.

“Jackson’s legacy is to help your fellow man, make the most of your life, and if there are tears – make them tears of joy,” she said.

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