Private First Class Rosamond Johnson made the ultimate sacrifice of laying down his life for his fellow soldiers. After enlisting in the U.S. Army at 15-years-old, Johnson died in combat just two years later while serving in combat on the Korea Peninsula.
While engaged with the enemy on July 26, 1950, Private Johnson carried two wounded soldiers to safety, saving their lives. In an attempt to save the life of another soldier, Johnson was fatally wounded by enemy fire.
Johnson did exactly what he had been trained to do without concern for his own safety, and lost his life in the process. On August 21, 1950, Rosamond was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he sustained while saving his fellow soldiers.
Usually, such self-sacrifice is recognized with honors for valor. But during the Korean War, there was another requirement – being the right race.
Johnson was the first person from Pensacola to die during the Korean War. He joined the Army at age 15 to take care of his mother and serve his country. Johnson served with the U.S. Army in the 24th Infantry Regiment under the 25th Division. While Johnson was honored posthumously with a Purple Heart, but he was never fully recognized for his valor.
It’s a painful insult that continues to impact his loved ones. Their pain is slightly assuaged with an annual celebration recognizing Johnson’s life.
At the time of his death in 1950, Pensacola beaches were racially segregated. A large swath of beach on Perdido Key was regulated for the sole use of bathing and recreational facilities for African-Americans.
In honor of his ultimate sacrifice, the Sunset Riding Club, which leased the land, declared the beach as Rosamond Johnson Beach. The area became part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in 1971.
Eugene Franklin, president and CEO of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce, began the celebration that took place on Saturday at the beach that bears his name at Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Dan Brown, Superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, apologized on behalf of the National Parks Service because they initially named the beach the “Perdido Key Area.”
“By posting a sign with a different official name, we may have unwittingly separated the African-American community from the only beach that they have been allowed to use for many years,” Brown said.
The issue will soon be resolved, however, as National Park Service officials announced last month that Johnson will be prominently recognized as visitors enter the park with new beach signage, which will read, “Rosamond Johnson Beach at Perdido Key Area.”
Speakers during the ceremony included Alison Davenport, former president of the Florida Black Chamber of Commerce and retired Navy Captain Frank J. Smith. Davenport, along with Franklin and artist Sonja Evans, have all been a major force in the effort to see Johnson appropriately honored. After meeting with the Johnson family eight years ago, she pledged to help. The ceremony showcased her efforts – complete with medals bearing Johnson’s likeness and biography distributed to each of the schoolchildren and family members in attendance.
“He died serving a country who wouldn’t serve him,” Evans said.
In his remarks, Smith stated that the backbone of the Army was the Private First Class because they are the soldiers who carried out orders. “They do all of the heavy lifting and complete the mission,” Smith said.
According to Perdido Key Area Chamber of Commerce Director Jo Ann Slaydon, those interested in learning more about Johnson are encouraged to visit the display at the Perdido Key visitor center. Lynn Mortimer of the Perdido Key Area Chamber of Commerce described the importance of the day with few but significant words: “To honor a war hero.”