BRISTOL TOWNSHIP - One by one, they read the cards
of sorrow and a state House resolution that marked the passing of Maurice Johnson, a man who grew up in Bucks County and was
serving in Iraq when he was killed.
"His loss came as a shock to all of us serving in the 101st Airborne Division," family friend Gwen Davis read from the
card from an Army commander. "Maurice was a man of courage and character."
At Johnson's funeral yesterday, the day after Veterans Day, dozens of relatives, friends, and township and school officials
recalled Johnson, 21, in much the same words as his military peers.
"I'm proud of him," said Johnson's uncle, Sonny Jones, 72, who was wounded in combat in Korea five decades ago. "Everyone
should serve this great country. That's what he did."
Johnson, a communications specialist who was born in Dallas and grew up in the Bloomsdale section of Levittown, died Nov.
1 when the civilian vehicle he was riding in was bombed in Mosul.
The Army posthumously awarded Johnson the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for meritorious service, his family said.
Yesterday, at the First Presbyterian Church on Emilie Road, several soldiers sat among the congregation; some were from
the area and others from Fort Campbell, Ky., where Johnson was based. Two of them, wearing white gloves, stood solemnly on
either side of Johnson's casket, which was draped in Old Glory.
The flag, Sgt. Nicholas Pierce said, would be folded and presented to the family at the grave at Beverly National Cemetery
in Burlington County.
At the church, longtime family friend Anne Watts performed a solo that harked back to the spirituals of old. In a eulogy
read afterward by Elizabeth Carter, Johnson was remembered as a "plain nice guy" who lived in Bristol Township for 18 years,
attended Harry S Truman High School, ran track and played football and spent hours at the neighborhood basketball court. He
was also a graduate of Bucks County Technical School.
Tony Stallworth, another family friend, said Johnson's mother, Jennifer, who died two years ago, encouraged him to join
the Army after graduating from high school because he was puzzled about what to do next.
Johnson enlisted in July 2000.
"I remember him coming with the papers and saying, 'Mr. Tony, I'm going in,' " Stallworth said. "He said to me, I'm going
in as a boy, I'm coming back as a man.' "
Carter said Johnson achieved that goal.
"Maurice came back a man. He came back a champion," she said.
Johnson is survived by a daughter, Laniyah, 1; his sister, Keisha Johnson, 25; brothers Joshua Johnson, 19, and Abdul Hashim,
13; and other relatives.
Yesterday, as he stood outside the church surrounded by a throng of friends - some wearing ribbons with a photo of Johnson
attached - Joshua Johnson reflected on his brother's life.
"He was a good guy," Joshua Johnson said. "He just did what was right."