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Riverside Trucker Is Among Fatalities in Iraq

Tony Johnson worked for Halliburton Co. 'They promised him that at the first sign of danger, he'd be home,' his daughter said.

April 28, 2004|Sandra Murillo | Times Staff Writer

A long-haul trucker from Riverside was identified Tuesday as one of four Halliburton Co. contract workers killed in Iraq when a fuel-truck convoy was attacked west of Baghdad this month.

Tony Johnson, 47, was among seven employees of a Halliburton subsidiary killed or missing in the April 9 attack. "He exhibited bravery, diligence and strength in his work. We grieve for his family's loss and the pain we all feel because of his unfinished life," company spokeswoman Wendy Hall said in a written statement.

Johnson's daughter, April, 24, said that until she received a phone call about her father's death or disappearance, she never thought he was in danger.

"I was told before he left that he'd be safe and he'd be coming home," she said tearfully outside her father's home. "They promised him that at the first sign of danger, he'd be home."

The bodies of Johnson and three other employees were found near the site of the attack several days afterward.

The identities of the other three were confirmed last week as Stephen Hulett, 48, of Manistee, Mich.; Jack Montague, 52, of Pittsburg, Ill.; and Jeffery Parker, 45, of Lake Charles, La.

Thomas Hamill of Macon, Miss., two other unidentified Halliburton employees and Army Pfc. Keith M. Maupin were abducted during the same attack. Hamill and Maupin have been seen alive on videotape and remain captives. The fate of the other two Halliburton workers is not known.

Johnson, a truck driver and former masonry contractor, was looking for adventure and a way to help the war effort, his daughter said. A fellow truck driver told him about the job at Halliburton, and he left for Iraq in late December, April Johnson said.

"We begged him not to go, but he was determined" said Johnson's former wife, Kim Johnson, 44, a nurse who also lives in Riverside. "He wanted some excitement; he wanted to help."

April Johnson, who has lived at her father's Jurupa Avenue home since he left, said she spoke to him the night before the convoy attack. He was living in military barracks with other contractors and told her he was meeting wonderful people. He sounded tired, she said, but gave no indication of how volatile the situation had become. He promised her he would be back home on July 1, she said.

"I had no idea what he was doing," his daughter said.

For the last 2 1/2 weeks, Johnson's family had clung to the hope that he had somehow escaped unharmed. They hoped that someone took him into their home or he was in hiding, they said.

"The only reason we summoned the strength to even get up this morning is because we wanted to make sure that he was honored, that people know he is the hero he deserves to be," his former wife said. "He was out there for all the right reasons. He would never hurt anybody."

The U.S. military relies heavily on private contractors to supply troops with food, fuel and water. Halliburton is the major contractor for the U.S. It employs 25,000 civilians in the Middle East who work as water testers, electricians, truck drivers and clerks.

KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, pays annual salaries of $80,000 or more tax-free to its overseas staff.

The company and its subcontractors have lost 34 workers in Kuwait and Iraq, a Halliburton spokesman said.

The Johnson family praised Halliburton for keeping in touch with them since his disappearance. But they said they had plenty of questions about the protection civilian employees receive in Iraq.

April and Kim Johnson say their support for the war has not wavered, but they would like to see an end to the violence soon.

"We don't want any more families going through what we're going through," April Johnson said.

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Associated Press contributed to this report

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