MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Bright bouquets of flowers were delivered throughout the day to the Hollywood funeral home where the body of Army Sgt. La David Johnson has remained all week.
A Broward Sheriff’s Office motorcade accompanied the casket from the funeral home to Christ the Rock Church, located at 11000 Stirling Road in Cooper City, where family friends and the public have been invited to his viewing from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
On Saturday, his funeral service will take place at the same church from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. followed by his burial at Hollywood Memorial Gardens located at 6301 Taft Street, just across the street from Fred Hunters Funeral Home.
At the church, the flag-draped casket was wheeled in as deputies saluted.
Mel Harris among the many veterans at the church to offer condolences.
“In the Korean War I lost three of my buddies, two I went to school with and one I played on the baseball team with. They were young like me in those days,” he said. “Sgt. Johnson is a young man.”
Sgt. Johnson, who was only 25, was killed October 4th when Islamic militants ambushed his unit in Niger.
“One of the things that crossed my mind was how could there not be any drones knowing that they are in an area where they can’t really see much or you don’t know much. But we have drones today that are able to fly over to at least avoid something like this from happening,” said veteran Mike Pacheco. “So I’m just, just devastated really.”
Sgt. Johnson leaves behind his grieving wife Myeshia, who is six months pregnant, a son and stepdaughter, as well as a large extended family.
“It is like very sad and gloomy and everybody is crying,” said Cerkema McGriff, one of Johnson’s sisters.
Terkya McGriff added, “Reality has hit me. It is like he is really gone and I am not going to have my brother anymore.”
Veteran L.C. Deal wants Johnson’s loved ones to know they have the military family behind them.
“For his family’s support. That support they just need to know that they aren’t alone in this,” Deal said.
Sgt. Johnson, assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, was one of four U.S. soldiers killed in the ambush.
According to the military, Johnson’s Special Forces unit was assisting and advising Nigerians on dealing with terror groups. The U.S. and Niger forces in a joint patrol were leaving a meeting with tribal leaders when they were ambushed by 40-50 militants believed to be linked to the Islamic State group.
Four Nigerien soldiers also died in the attack and two other U.S. troops were wounded.
The U.S. has launched an investigation into the deadly ambush and the confusion that followed.
According to CNN, the Defense Department is conducting an initial review of the mission which is aimed at determining precisely what happened, something that is still not clear nearly two weeks after the incident.
U.S. special operations forces have been working with Niger’s military in the fight against extremists in the African region.
Johnson enlisted in the Army in January 2014 as a wheeled vehicle mechanic. His awards and decorations include the Army Achievement Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Army Parachutist Badge, the Army Air Assault Badge, the Driver and Mechanic Badge and the Marksmanship Qualification Badge – Sharpshooter with Rifle.
The 5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project has established a scholarship fund to benefit Sgt. Johnson’s children by providing money toward their college education.
Meantime, the controversy over President Donald Trump’s condolence call to Sgt. Johnson’s family remains heated.
Thursday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly condemned Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who was a close family friend of Sgt. Johnson, when she criticized President Trump for how he spoke to his widow.
Wilson, who was allowed to listen to Trump’s phone call, claimed Trump said Johnson knew “what he signed up for.”
Trump denied he ever said that and told reporters he had “a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife who sounded like a lovely woman.”
Sgt. Johnson’s aunt, who raised him as if she were his mother, told the Washington Post she also heard the phone call and supported the Congresswoman’s account of the conversation.
Kelly, however, criticized Rep. Wilson for politicizing La David Johnson’s death.
Then Thursday night, the back and forth criticism continued when Kelly recalled a ceremony in Miramar in 2015 to dedicate a new FBI building named after two slain FBI agents.
Kelly criticized Wilson for claiming “she got the money” for the new building during the 2015 ceremony while he and others in the audience were focused on the heroism of agents Benjamin Grogan and Jerry Dove, killed during a 1986 shootout with bank robbers south of Miami.
Wilson said Kelly got the story flat-out wrong. In fact, she said Washington approved the money before she was even in Congress. The legislation she sponsored named the building after Grogan and Dove, a law enacted just days before the ceremony. In 2015, Wilson won praise from Miami Republicans for sponsoring the bill to name the long anticipated federal building after the two agents who became legends in local law enforcement.
At the dedication ceremony, James Comey, then director of the FBI, lauded Wilson’s legislation, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama three days before the April 2015 ceremony.
“Rep. Wilson truly did the impossible, and we are eternally grateful,” Comey said in his remarks.
On Thursday evening, an administration spokesman issued a statement that said: “The White House stands by Gen. Kelly’s account of the event.”
The controversy was still raging at the White House late Thursday night. Shortly before 11 p.m., Trump tweeted: “The Fake News is going crazy with wacky Congresswoman Wilson(D), who was SECRETLY on a very personal call, and gave a total lie on content!”