NWLA Chapter 351

Crossbow

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Ron Chatelain (left), commander of northwest Louisiana Chapter 351 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and Sgt. Derrick Smith (right), a past commander, present a compound crossbow to medically retired Marine Lance Cpl. Blake Johnson on Monday at the Highland Center in Shreveport. Johnson, of Denham Springs, was severely wounded during his second combat tour in Iraq and had been paralyzed from the waist down. He has since regained much of his movement but still is too weak to hunt as he used to love to do. The new bow will allow him to hunt again.

American military personnel never leave a wounded buddy in the lurch, whether in the heat of battle or at home after the cheering has quieted.

 

With that in mind, Marine Corps veterans and other members of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart helped one of their own who was severely wounded in combat in Iraq.

The bullet that struck Marine Lance Cpl. Blake Johnson in his left flank Sept. 28, 2006, in Fallujah damaged his spine. The two-tour combat veteran, just 21 years old at the time, was paralyzed from the waist down.

As fellow wounded veteran Army Sgt. Derrick Smith, of Shreveport, a former commander of Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 351, put it, they were "in the wrong place in the wrong country and the wrong time."

Although Johnson has regained most of his movement, weakness, nerve tingling and some limitations in mobility remain. So he was unable to pursue of his greatest loves in life, hunting.

But now the Denham Springs resident can take to the woods again, stalking deer and filling the deep freeze for his family and friends.

Chapter members, assisted by state order leaders and its National Service Officer, Fred Fuentes, of New Orleans, purchased a special compound bow for Johnson and presented it to him Monday at the Highland Center on Olive Street in Shreveport. The easy-draw bow will let him go into the woods to hunt again, just in time for deer season.

"I can't tell you how much this means to me," a choked-up Johnson told the crowd of fellow wounded veterans, scarred from World War II to the present.

"Welcome home, bro," the local chapter's commander, Vietnam War veteran and five-time Purple Heart recipient Ron Chatelain, of Shreveport, told Johnson as he handed him the bow and a challenge coin. "Welcome home."

With Johnson was his wife, LeaAnn, their 10-month-old son, Parker, Johnson's mom, Kayla Johnson, and younger sister Brooke Johnson.

Johnson and his family soon will move to Liberty, Miss., where he will go to college, majoring in criminal science.

"He carries a lot of injuries with him," Chatelain said. "He's overcome most of his paralysis, and it's amazing he can walk now. But he'll have tingling and internal problems that will remain with him rest of his life."

LeaAnn Johnson thinks the best Veterans Day appreciation they have is their son Parker, who came along well after his father returned from the war paralyzed.

"He has been the most wonderful blessing in our life," she said. "After Blake was shot, they told him we would never be able to conceive a child."