A Favorite Son of Philadelphia Falls in Iraq

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Army Cpl. Carl Johnson Jr. of Philadelphia died in Mosul when a roadside bomb exploded near his armored vehicle. Johnson, 21, was a high-school football player who had a motorcycle, nice rims on his car and a way with the ladies, friends say. His high-school football buddies kept up with him on MySpace. NPR's Phyllis Fletcher has this remembrance.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Army Corporal Carl Johnson will be buried this Friday at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed earlier this month by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Johnson was 21. He grew up in Philadelphia and played football in high school.

As NPR's Phyllis Fletcher reports, Johnson's friends remember him as a flamboyant charmer.

PHYLLIS FLETCHER: Everyone who went to Simon Gratz High School in north Philadelphia in 2003 saw senior Carl Johnson on his motorcycle. He'd get the bike, and make sure he was in front of school every afternoon just as the final bell rang.

Mr. LAMONT EDGEFIELD: Then he'd ride around, go around the other door, let everybody see him, wave, come back around, park the bike, get off, just doing what anybody would do if they had it.

FLETCHER: That's Johnson's friend and football teammate, Lamont Edgefield. He says they were all in competition for girls, and Johnson got the girls nobody else could get.

Mr. ROBERT MASSEY: He had that confidence that he had game, okay?

FLETCHER: Johnson's high school English teacher, Robert Massey.

Mr. MASSEY: Carl was an athlete, you know. He had a little motorcycle, and he thought he had game. You know, all those things are ingredients for a teenaged, you know, Casanova.

FLETCHER: Every Casanova needs a slow jam.

(Soundbite of song, “What I Need”)

FLETCHER: Johnson's was What I Need by Ray J. He put it on his Web site on MySpace, where people go to see and be seen online. After high school, Johnson joined the Army. He used MySpace to get back in touch with his high school football buddies, Lamont Edgefield and another friend who shared Johnson's name. The two Carl Johnsons did ROTC together.

Mr. CARL JOHNSON: We was in the ROTC room. He said he was going to go into the Army, so - I thought he was playing. Carl used to always say that he wanted to (unintelligible). I guess that was a big reason why he went.

FLETCHER: Edgefield leans over my laptop. We look at photos from Johnson's Web site. Some are self-portraits - Corporal Johnson posing in a full-length mirror or sitting in his car - one shot of the car, a shiny silver sedan decked out with rims on the wheels. Edgefield reads the caption.

Mr. EDGEFIELD: The (unintelligible).

FLETCHER: Once the three friends found each other on MySpace, they would talk on instant message, Corporal Johnson in Iraq, Edgefield and the other Johnson in Philly. The last time they were online together, Johnson said he was tired of getting shot at every day. He wanted to come home.

Mr. EDGEFIELD: That being our friend, we joking with him. Like yeah, come on, so I'm playing, you girling. Man up over there. You know what I'm saying? He was saying like yeah, it's crazy over here, and a couple days later we got the bad news.

FLETCHER: Edgefield makes Johnson say it.

Mr. JOHNSON: That he got killed.

FLETCHER: Corporal Johnson was driving a tank in Mosul when a roadside bomb exploded nearby. Back in Philadelphia, word got around. Johnson's friend, Carl Johnson, went on MySpace as soon as he heard. He saw dozens of posts like I'll miss you and I can't believe it.

Mr. JOHNSON: I had to, like, write a comment to show love, but I couldn't write that much because I was so shocked. So mine just said look, rest in peace, C.J.

FLETCHER: Edgefield gets tongue-tied when he tries to explain how he feels. He gazes across the football stadium.

Mr. EDGEFIELD: We all went to war out here on the field and fights and food-fights in the cafeteria. He was good to me, and you know.

FLETCHER: This time, the other Carl can't finish the sentence. Corporal Carl W. Johnson II leaves behind a mother and three sisters. His friends have created a second site on MySpace as a memorial.

Phyllis Fletcher, NPR News.

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