Vermont family mourns military son killed in plane crash

military crash

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, second from right. With him are his parents, Kevin and Suzanne Johnson, and their youngest son, Cullen. Photo courtesy of Johnson family

The father of a Vermont native who died this week in a military plane crash remembered his son’s love of art and travel and the pride with which he served in the Marines.

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, a 46-year-old Colchester native, was one of 16 service members on a plane bound for an airbase in California that crashed late Monday afternoon in Mississippi. All 16 died.

WCAX reported on Johnson’s death Monday.

In a news conference Wednesday, Brig. Gen. Bradley S. James said the cause of crash had not been determined, but that preliminary investigation suggests the plane experienced structural failure at cruise altitude. He added that the plane, a KC-130T aerial refueling tanker, broke up in flight and left two impact craters about a mile apart.

Johnson’s father, Kevin Johnson, of Colchester, spoke to VTDigger about his son Thursday afternoon.

military crash

Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson, a Colchester native, with wife Anna when they renewed their vows last year. Photo courtesy of Johnson family

His son enlisted in the Marines in 1994 after graduating from Johnson State College, where he earned a degree in fine arts.

Johnson said his son was attached to a reserve C-130 refueling and cargo squadron based out of the Stewart Air National Guard base in Newburgh, New York. He lived with his wife, Anna, in Fishkill, New York, so she could be closer to New York City, where she is a flight attendant.

Johnson said that, serving in an aviation group, his son had traveled all over the world during his time in the Marine Corps. He recalled that his son liked to keep track of everywhere he had been.

“He had a big map, from almost floor to ceiling, and it took up one side of the wall,” Johnson said. “It was one of those maps you can buy in panels from National Geographic, and on there he had marked all the places and trips he had made over time. Each time he came back, he would put in where he had just been, just a little circle and a line drawing.”

Brendan Johnson continued exercising his passion for art after college, his father said. He kept a room in his house with a north-facing window to do artwork. He gave his parents paintings based on photographs of their family members who had also served in the military.

Kevin Johnson recalled a story his son told him about a time the plane he was on stopped over in Dublin for engine repairs. The work took a full day, so Brendan Johnson and some of his friends went on a tour of the Guinness factory.

“They had a contest there at Guinness at the time. You’d draw on a plate and, if it was good enough, they put it up on their wall for a while,” the father said. “And so he drew a picture of a Marine C-130 as a caricature bellying up to the bar with a Guinness in front of him. So he said, ‘Yeah, when I left, they were putting that up on the wall.’”

The elder Johnson praised the support he’s received over the past several days from the Marine Corps.

“I can’t say enough for these guys in the Marine Corps. You know, they said, ‘Call me, email me, I’m available 24/7. Even if it’s 3 o’clock in the morning, if you’re not feeling good and you want to talk to somebody, call me.’”

Cyrus Ready-Campbell

Cyrus Ready-Campbell is a reporting intern for VTDigger. He graduated from Stanford University in 2017, where he wrote for the Stanford Daily and studied history, computer science and creative writing. Read more


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  • Jim Manahan

    My condolences and sincere gratitude to Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson and his family for his commitment and sacrifice on our behalf. Semper Fi.

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