Today we observe Memorial Day, previously known as Decoration Day, to honor men and women who died in active military service to this country.
The very first Memorial Day was on May 1, 1865, in Charleston, S.C. when formerly enslaved Africans held a ceremony to honor 257 dead Union Soldiers who had been buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.
They spent the next two weeks digging up each body and giving them a proper burial to honor them for fighting and dying for their freedom. The gracious African Americans then held a parade of 10,000, led by a procession of nearly 3,000 black children dancing, singing and marching in celebration.
In keeping with the original spirit and honor of the first Memorial Day observance, we recognize the sacrifice of two heroes from Miami Gardens who made the ultimate sacrifice for this country: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Edmond L. Randle Jr. and U.S. Army Sgt. La David Johnson.
Sgt. La David Johnson
Miami Gardens hero Sgt. La David Johnson gave his life after being ambushed in Niger on October 4, 2017. Johnson and his team members — Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright were killed. His death captured the attention of the nation and mainly South Florida when the current occupant of the White House politicized Sgt. Johnson’s death and insulted Congresswoman Frederica Wilson in the process.
Video of Sgt. Johnson’s beautiful then-pregnant wife, Myeshia slumped over his casket in tears as it arrived home and their adorable children at their father’s funeral, tore at the heartstrings of anyone who is a human being. For many in South Florida, questions remain about Sgt. Johnson’s death. Inarguably, the nation owes him and his team members gratitude and tremendous honor forever.
Sgt. Edmond L. Randle, Jr.
On January 17, 2004, Sgt. Edmond L. Randle, Jr. of Miami Gardens became the first documented South Florida soldier to be killed by anti-US insurgents in Iraq. Randle was one of three soldiers who died that day when a homemade explosive device struck their vehicle near Baghdad.
Sgt. Randle attended American Senior High for part of his high school years but continued the family tradition by graduating from Miami Central Senior High. Like his father, Edmond Randle, Sr., Sgt. Randle was a standout musician in the Marching Rockets Band at Miami Central and continued at Florida A&M University where he earned a music scholarship and was a section leader in the famous Marching 100. Because he wanted to be a pharmacist, he gave up his music scholarship and volunteered for the Army, which would help fund his educational plans.
Despite its origins, the African American impact on the shaping of Memorial Day is mostly forgotten and ignored by the mainstream. Let’s do our part in making sure all soldiers are remembered who gave their lives in service to this country. Let’s remember the origins of Memorial Day and especially never forget Staff Sgt. Edmond L. “Dakie” Randle and Sgt. La David Johnson.