Operation Iraqi Freedom, Fallen Heroes, Iraq War 03/19/03

Stephen P Johnson

Covina, California

January 26, 2005

Age Military Rank Unit/Location
24 Marine Cpl

1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, III Marine Expeditionary Force

Marine Corps Base Hawaii

 Died when the CH-53E helicopter they were in crashed near Ar Rutbah, Iraq.

L.A. Times, February 6, 2005

Californians Among 31 Killed in Helicopter Crash; Marine Cpl. Stephen P. Johnson, 24, Yreka

When Marine Cpl. Stephen P. Johnson's mother got the news of her 24-year-old son's death in a helicopter crash in Iraq that killed 31 troops, she was baby-sitting his 1-year-old son, Tyler.

It was 9:30 p.m. Jan. 27 when two military officers showed up on the doorstep of Roni Aurelio's home in Yreka, Calif. She had just put Tyler down to sleep. "I almost slammed the door, but I let them in," said Aurelio, 48.

Just 24 hours earlier, Johnson, 29 other Marines and a sailor were killed when a military transport helicopter crashed during bad weather near Rutbah, in western Iraq. Twenty-seven of them, including Johnson, were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force, Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.

Aurelio said she and her son were best friends, so much so that he took her bar-hopping on his 21st birthday. "We both got sick," Aurelio said. Her son was "a little comedian" who had an infectious laugh and loved doing impressions, she said.

Mimicking one of Mike Myers' characters in the "Austin Powers" films was one of his favorites, said Johnson's 17-year-old sister, Megan Aurelio.

Levi Machado, 23, was Johnson's best friend and the best man at his wedding in 2002. The two met 10 years ago at Yreka High School, Machado said. He was the most "loyal person I ever met," he said.

Megan Aurelio said she would always cherish a phone call she got from her brother two years ago while he was stationed in Hawaii. She was in a hospital and had just undergone surgery for a genetic lung disorder. "He called me ... just to tell me that he loved me and that he would always be there for me," she said.

Johnson's wife, Kelsey, 19, said she last spoke to him the day before the crash. She said that he was concerned about his mission, and that he had "a really bad feeling" about where he was about to go. "I cried and wondered where he was and watched the news all the time," she said. She learned of his death while visiting a sister in Medford, Ore. "I dropped down on the ground and started screaming," she said.

Johnson was looking forward to coming home this month and taking a post as a drill instructor at Camp Pendleton, his wife said. She said he was a good husband and father, spending five months with his son before he was deployed. Johnson joined the Marine Corps in 2000. He was deployed to Iraq in September and recently had reenlisted.

In addition to his wife, son, mother and sister Megan, Johnson is survived by his sister Kari Williams, 27; and two half brothers. Johnson was buried Saturday in Yreka.

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