WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — As a child, Marine Corps veteran Eric Johnson loved listening to the stories his grandfather, a World War II veteran who was part of the Normandy Invasion, would tell him — those stories spurring Johnson’s dream of one day becoming a Marine.

After 9/11, that dream grew even stronger.

After training in California’s unforgiving Mojave Desert, Johnson was initially deployed with the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines to Iraq in September 2006.

“We started out in Al Qa-Im not too long after they did Operation Iron Fist and Steel Curtain, so that whole place was pretty much just blown to pieces,” Johnson said.

Two months later, Saddam Hussein was executed.

“That was the bloodiest month of the Iraq War, so there was a lot of casualties going on then — it wasn’t a very good month,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s unit then made its way to the city of Hit, Iraq — an area close to Ramadi and Fallujah.

“You couldn’t patrol during the day or anything like that ‘cuz of the sniper threat was so bad,” Johnson said.

The unit then made its way through the towns of Ana and Barwana, conducting night raids and security operations.

“We were all pretty scared of the IED (improvised explosive device) threat a lot, but, you know, when you’re outside the wire, it’s just all combat mindset,” Johnson said.

Johnson would return home from his first deployment in May 2007 — he would head back to Iraq nine months later.

After two tours in Iraq, Johnson would serve as a Marine Corps marksmanship instructor.

“A lot of us were pretty worried, I mean, we had a pretty rough deployment, and, it was kinda really unfortunate ‘cuz my mom passed away like right before I got back, so I was really like not in a really good mindset,” Johnson said.

During his second tour, Johnson would head back to work securing area villages and tearing down combat outposts.

“We started out [at] this place called Cop Timberwolf, which was an outpost outside Al Asad Air Base, to make sure that they weren’t firing rockets into there that they’d built ‘cuz they used to take a lot of indirect fire on Al Asad,” Johnson said.

After two tours in Iraq, Johnson would serve as a Marine Corps Marksmanship instructor in Parris Island, South Carolina.

He would go on to reenlist with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, or ‘2-4’, two years later — his third and final deployment would land him in Afghanistan.

“I requested orders ‘cuz I wanted to go to Afghanistan ‘cuz right when I reenlisted, they started sending Marines to Afghanistan, and that’s, you know, where I really wanted to go when I joined,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s heroic actions during his time in Afghanistan would lead him to become a valor award recipient.

“We were pretty much pinned down, and … our Ford Observer … he got hit with a mortar, and was concussed, so we had to triage him,” Johnson said. “Then, me and my gunner, machine-gunner, basically fought of those machine guns and mortar squad by ourselves.”

For his bravery, Johnson was awarded the prestigious Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal.

Now years later, Johnson says not a day goes by, he doesn’t think about his time as a Marine.

“They really say that once a marine, always a marine, and it’s true, I mean, that never leaves you,” Johnson said.

Johnson would serve in the Marine Corps for eight years.

If you would like to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at hannah.adamson@ksn.com.