LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:
Today, one of the four U.S. soldiers killed in an attack in Niger was laid to rest. Sergeant La David Johnson's funeral service was held in Cooper City in South Florida. Caitie Switalski of member station WLRN was there, and she joins us now. Welcome, Caitie.
CAITIE SWITALSKI, BYLINE: Hi, Lakshmi.
SINGH: So tell us what it was like with the folks who - that you saw there were like. You were outside the church during the funeral service. Tell us what you saw.
SWITALSKI: Well, Sergeant Johnson's family requested - very understandably - that no media be allowed inside the service, but you could hear hymns playing outside of the church. Many community members attended and described this service as a very, very emotional one but still a very dignified sendoff for someone like Johnson, who was an American hero. Christ the Rock Church, where the funeral was held, was absolutely packed. Just after Johnson's wife, Myeshia Johnson arrived - she came with the couple's 6-year-old daughter and their 2-year-old son - it started to poor, actually. Typical South Florida weather, but it only made the day feel even more somber. I was able to talk with two of Johnson's sisters, Tornisha and Angie Ghent. Tornisha said she's remembering her brother for his extraordinary personality.
TORNISHA: He was a loving free-spirit person. So he loved everybody. He was a peaceful person.
SINGH: Caitie, Sergeant Johnson was one of four soldiers killed in the ambush in Niger. And I understand that his comrades were also honored today.
SWITALSKI: Yes. His widow, Myeshia Johnson, who is due to give birth to their third child in January, was escorted into the service by an Army officer. And American Legion members stood outside of the church waving American flags. There was a motorcade. The family all wore white in solidarity at the service. They all wore red at last night's wake. But some of the people who attended said that there was a big portrait of Johnson inside along with portraits of his three comrades who were also killed in that ambush in Niger - Staff Sergeants Bryan Black, Jeremiah Johnson and Dustin Wright.
SINGH: Was there any sense that the political controversy that surfaced this week surrounding the four soldiers' deaths, was there any sense that that was present at today's somber gathering?
SWITALSKI: No, not even in the slightest on the minds of all of the family and friends that attended the service and community members. Not one person brought that up. No one mentioned it. And the day was really very focused on Johnson and his family, you know, how he was as a father, how he was as a team member and, you know, his love for motorbikes and, you know, his passions.
SINGH: Well, what were you told about how Sergeant Johnson will be remembered, what he will be remembered for most in his community?
SWITALSKI: From what family friends, his old sports coach, distant cousins and community members tell me, he was not your average person. His other sister, Angie Ghent, describes how Johnson got his nickname The Wheelie King. You name it - motor bikes, ATVs, BMX bikes, Johnson was known for riding with one wheel. Many others at the funeral today simply described Johnson as humble. I mean, four people must have used that word to describe him to me. He was one determined and, quote, "over-loved father, brother, son, cousin and nephew."
SINGH: Caitie Switalski of member station WLRN. Caitie, thank you so much for joining us.
SWITALSKI: Thank you.
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