“As a community it is our responsibility to never forget. We need to honor the fallen, the families left behind, and the communities which support them.” ~ Theresa Johnson
7,000 boots stretch for miles. They stand in formation just as their Fallen once did. They honor those lost to war through pictures and words. This is what Theresa Johnson’s Fisher House Run, Walk, and Rolls have become: A story told through boots, miles walked and connections made.
What started in 2012 on Pearl Harbor’s historic Ford Island as a “Run, Walk, or Roll” meant to honor a fallen family friend and spread the word about the Fisher House has now blossomed into four separate events, each with their own display of 7,000+ boots and hundreds of volunteers. Since its inception, more than 12,000 people have participated.
For Johnson this is a labor of love. As she explains it, “I wanted to start this to honor one man, but realized it had to be all or none. It is forever dedicated in loving memory of PFC. Timothy Vimoto.”
The original plan was to set up a boot for only those killed downrange post 9/11. However, when news of the first event spread, families began reaching out to Johnson asking for their service-members to be included.
When the mother of a soldier who died by suicide contacted Johnson and explained, “My son’s body died at Fort Riley, but he was killed in Iraq,” Johnson knew that anyone who had served honorably and later died from injuries, whether physical or mental, sustained due to war must be represented with a boot.
Neither Theresa Johnson, married for 25 years to Command Sergeant Major Leon Johnson, nor her husband are strangers to the hardships of military life. Many losses have hit CSM Johnson’s units over the years and multiple family friends have experienced loss during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
None, however, was harder to process than the loss of dear family friend, PFC Timothy Vimoto on June 5, 2007.
“Tim was like one of our kids. He played football with my two older sons, and when our division at Ft. Campbell deployed, he was at our house all of the time,” says Johnson.
She explained that the families’ bond began when they first arrived at Fort Campbell, prepared to spend their first Thanksgiving in Tennessee without household goods. “Tim went home and told his family, who happened to be hosting a huge feast. They opened their arms and hearts to us insisting we be with family.”
Johnson’s youngest, Leon, learned of Tim’s passing via MySpace and shared it with his mom.
Johnson said the hardest part was, “When I was on my way to pick up the older boys from school I kept trying to figure out how I was going to tell them about the loss of their ‘big brother.’ I will never forget that day.”
The Vimoto family’s loss, especially heartbreaking because Tim’s father was his Brigade Sergeant Major at the time, always weighed heavily on Theresa’s mind. In 2012 as her own middle son, Blake, prepared for his first deployment she continuously had the thought, “It could always be us.”