It took several days to recover Johnson’s body. During that time, his father later told reporters, his family maintained some tiny glimmer of hope that Johnson would be found alive.
“At first, I thought it was a mistake and that they could still find him,” his father said. After receiving a call from the Navy, though, “there’s no doubt he’s really dead.”
An online tribute captures the tragedy of Johnson’s death.
“Benjamin got a chance to do a few of the things he wanted to do in life: graduated from high school, traveled a bit, married his high school sweetheart,” it reads. “But the list of things he didn’t get to do is much longer. He wanted to take a missions trip to England with his wife, finish his military service, go to college, become a teacher, buy a house and have children.”
Benjamin died on Nov. 18, 2001. He was one of the first service members to die in the Middle East during what would eventually become a two-decade-long military engagement in Afghanistan and the region. He was one of eight members of the U.S. military to die in 2001, according to data from the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count.
The reason I am telling Johnson’s story in particular is because he was only a few years younger than me and because he was from my hometown of Rochester, N.Y. There’s nothing about his being from Rochester that is significant in where or how he died except to me and, presumably to other Rochesterians. It’s like when someone casually mentions your birth date in a movie: for everyone else it’s some minor plot point but, for you, it stands out crisply.
Benjamin Johnson would today have been in his 40s, like me, from Rochester, like me, and perhaps married with small children, like me. But instead he gave his life in service to his country, one of thousands from all across the country to do so in the 20 years from Sept. 11, 2001, to now.
That map excludes Hawaii (14 deaths), Alaska (eight deaths), Puerto Rico (16 deaths) and the other U.S. territories (16 deaths). It also excludes deaths directly related to the war in Iraq. It is, instead, a map of the conflict in Afghanistan that directly followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — to the extent that drawing such a delineation makes sense.
Over the past six or seven years, the conflict had mostly moved to the background of the national conversation. We were still in Afghanistan, but the number of fatalities had declined and there was little reporting on progress being made in securing the country’s long-term future (for what has recently become very clear reasons). But even in that period, there were still service members giving their lives, from Indiana and from Utah and from New Mexico and from Virginia.
Between Sept. 11, 2016, and Sept. 11, 2021, in the last five years it was underway, 92 service members from 28 states gave their lives in the conflict. The last 13 died last month in a terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul. Four of them were from California.
This isn’t necessarily meaningful to you, but a total of six people from Rochester died in the conflict, four soldiers, a marine and Johnson. The five others were Nekl Allen, killed at 26 in 2010, Moses Armstead, who died at 44 in 2005, Theodore Glende, killed at 23 in 2012, Javier Ortiz Rivera, killed in 2010 at age 26 and Nicholas Reid, who was 26 when he was killed in Kandahar province in 2012.
Their deaths and the deaths of all of those indicated on the maps above were the other side of the tragedy of Sept. 11.