Tyler Johnson to receive US flag flown in F-16 over Iraq
November 23, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Tyler Johnson has a piece of history coming to him.
A U.S. Air Force squadron in Iraq heard about the 10-year-old’s illness and subsequent amputations and wanted to respond. The squadron commander flew an American flag around Iraq, and the Routt County resident who started the movement will present it to Tyler when she returns.
Airman 1st Class Rebekah LaDue said her mother, Cindy LaDue, of Hayden, asked her to read about Tyler’s illness and the community response. Rebekah LaDue told her mother she was too busy at first. But Cindy LaDue insisted she take the time.
Rebekah LaDue was glad she did.
“I’m just really proud of how the community’s gotten together to help him,” she said last week from Joint Base Balad in Iraq. “I’ve never seen anything
like it. I keep telling the story of Tyler to my squadron, and everyone’s amazed at the fundraising events and how much money they’ve raised and how proud we are of him.”
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Tyler, of Steamboat Springs, lost his feet and parts of some fingers from an illness this past summer. He was flown to Denver in June and spent five weeks in the hospital, undergoing several surgeries. Doctors think the illness was a form of meningococcal septicemia.
The community has rallied around him, raising thousands of dollars for his family’s medical bills through benefits and auctions.
Tyler has prosthetics now and is in fifth grade at Soda Creek Elementary School. He’s wrestling, doing gymnastics and going to physical therapy each week, said his mother, Shara Johnson.
“He had a big smile on his face” when he found out, she said. “He’s very upset because he really wanted to be in the military when he grew up, and now he’s not going to be able to. He’s really excited they would think of him.”
LaDue said her commander carried the flag in his F-16 during a combat mission. Her group hasn’t arranged such a flight for anyone before, LaDue said. She arrived for her first Iraq tour in August and is scheduled to leave in January.
“We have people that put in requests to get flags flown for different reasons,” said Capt. Lindsey Hahn, an Air Force spokeswoman stationed with LaDue. “But Rebekah and her squadron got together and made a plan to do this, and, as a team, they did this for Tyler.”
Tyler said his reaction when he heard about the flag flying was, “holy cow.”
The Johnsons said they did not know where in the home they would put the flag, but Shara Johnson promised it would be somewhere special.
Tyler said he planned to hang on to the flag and would “probably keep it for as long as I can hold on to it.”
Tyler said he was grateful to his Routt County neighbors, as well as to LaDue and her squadron.
“I’d say ‘thank you’ to the community for doing all these fundraisers for me, and a big thank you to the Air Force place,” Tyler said.
Shara Johnson said she wanted to thank the Air Force but didn’t know how.
“I’m still kind of in shock, not knowing anybody who’s ever had this done for them before,” she said. “I would definitely like to say ‘thank you.’ I wish I could support the troops more than I even have, not just for this, but for all the other reasons to support them. I don’t think they should be supporting me, by any means. They’re the ones who are the heroes.”
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