Beharry, Johnson 1980(?)-

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Beharry, Johnson 1980(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born 1980 (some sources say 1979), in Grenada; immigrated to England, 1999; son of Michael and Florette Beharry; married; wife's name Lynthia (divorced). Education: Attended college in London, England.

CAREER:

Writer and soldier. Worked as a decorator, automobile mechanic, painter, and laborer. Caribbean Development Trust, honorary patron. Military service: Served in the British Army, 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment; became lance corporal; received the Victoria Cross, March, 2005.

WRITINGS:

(With Nick Cook) Barefoot Soldier: A Story of Extreme Valor (memoir), Sphere (London, England), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

As a child in the village of St. Mark, in his native country of Grenada, writer and soldier Johnson Beharry was one of eight children in an impoverished household that often had to subsist on minimal meals of beans and rice. His father was an alcoholic and prone to violence, eking out a living as a farmer. To attend school, Beharry walked three miles, barefoot, every day, according to a biographer on the Little, Brown Book Group Web site. At age thirteen, he quit school to work as a painter, decorator, mechanic, and laborer. Although he worked hard, conditions were still difficult: "He couldn't afford lunch unless he got a lift and saved his bus fare. Otherwise he had to go hungry," reported biographer Antonia Hoyle in a profile on Mirror.co.uk. Described by his mother, Florette, as a "peaceful, kind, and thoughtful" young man, Beharry possessed a strong resolve and determination to escape the conditions of his youth, Hoyle noted. He was outwardly calm and genial, but "behind that quiet exterior lay a fierce ambition to make something of his life," Hoyle remarked.

Beharry sought his path to improvement in the world of the warrior. In 1999, at the age of nineteen, he managed to gather the airfare for a flight to London, where he joined the British Army as a member of the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment. Beharry thrived in the military, and served in Kosovo and Northern Ireland before being sent to Iraq. There, in the turbulent environment of the Middle East, his character would be tested to its limit as he faced his mortality and committed acts of valor that would see him become one of the British Army's most highly honored and decorated soldiers. In his memoir, Barefoot Soldier: A Story of Extreme Valor, written with Nick Cook, Beharry recounts his early life, his days in the military, the combat-driven events that brought his greatest honor upon him, and his troubled recovery from grave physical injuries that nearly cost him his life.

In the army, Beharry became a driver of Warrior armored vehicles. In 2004, he was sent to Iraq, where he served in the city of al-Amarah. On May 1, 2004, Beharry's squad, in Warrior armored vehicles, were ordered to help a foot patrol that had been ambushed by Iraqi forces. Beharry was a driver of the lead command vehicle, and when the squad arrived on site, it also fell into a violent ambush. Blasted by multiple rocket-propelled grenades and a hail of heavy small-arms fire, several occupants of the Warrior were injured, including the mission's commander. The vehicle itself suffered great damage, including loss of communications ability. Because of the thick smoke inside the vehicle, Beharry was forced to drive with the armored hatch open; in the process, he was shot in the head, but the bullet lodged in his helmet. Beharry drove through a tense roadblock, leading five other warrior vehicles to safety. He pulled his unconscious commander and another soldier from the burning Warrior, then managed to disable the vehicle so that it would not fall into Iraqi hands before he collapsed from stress and exhaustion.

Six weeks later, Beharry was in another Warrior patrol that came under intense enemy fire. This time, however, he was seriously injured when a rocket-propelled grenade exploded mere inches from his head. He suffered brain injuries and a fractured skull, yet managed to slam his vehicle into reverse and maneuver it to safety before falling unconscious from his wounds, saving himself and the other occupants of the Warrior.

For his bravery in combat, the twenty-five-year-old Private Beharry was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award given by Great Britain. The medal was bestowed by the Queen Elizabeth herself, in a ceremony in March, 2005. He became the first British soldier to receive the medal since the Falklands War in 1982, and the first living recipient of the Victoria Cross since 1969. He remains one of only a few VC recipients who are still alive, and the youngest of them all. On a par with the American Congressional Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross affords Beharry rare distinction. All British soldiers, from the highest-ranking general to the newest private, are required to salute him when he is in uniform. He will receive a small annual stipend for the remainder of his life; elsewhere, the publisher's advance for his combat memoir made him a millionaire. And, he will take his place among a very small but distinguished contingent of soldiers who proved their mettle through selfless service to their fellow warriors. In part, Beharry's citation reads: "For his repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valor, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action, Pte. Beharry deserves the highest possible recognition."

Though his combat ordeal ultimately rendered him highly honored and financially secure, Beharry was also left with permanent physical injuries that will likely result in a lifetime of pain and physical impairment. Even his future in the military is in doubt. The aftermath of Beharry's ordeal had repercussions beyond the physical. His difficulties cost him his marriage to his childhood sweetheart, Lynthia. Still, he faces his future with determination and resolve, much as he conducted himself as a soldier under fire.

In assessing Beharry's memoir, a BookCrossing.com Web site reviewer stated: "Frank, heartbreaking, but laced with Johnson's irrepressible humor, Barefoot Soldier is an utterly compelling story of extraordinary courage that will inspire this and future generations."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Beharry, Johnson, and Nick Cook, Barefoot Soldier: A Story of Extreme Valor (memoir), Sphere (London, England), 2006.

PERIODICALS

Bookseller, September 23, 2005, Nicholas Clee, "VC Hero Signs with TW," p. 13; October 6, 2006, "Soldiering On: Little, Brown's Launch Party for Barefoot Soldier by Johnson Beharry VC Took Place This Week at the Imperial War Museum," p. 7.

Economist, March 26, 2005, "For Valour; The Victoria Cross," profile of Johnson Beharry, p. 38.

Guardian (London, England), March 18, 2005, Richard Norton-Taylor, "Private Twice Rescued Colleagues While under Heavy Fire in Iraq," profile of Johnson Beharry; March 18, 2005, "Private Beharry's Victoria Cross Citation."

Jamaica Observer, October 8, 2006, Diane Abbott, "A Case of Extreme Valor," profile of Johnson Beharry.

Jet, April 4, 2005, "British Army Hero," profile of Johnson Beharry, p. 16; March 12, 2007, "Portrait of a Hero," profile of Johnson Beharry, p. 32.

M2 Presswire, March 18, 2005, "Operational Honours and Awards; A Victoria Cross Is to Be Awarded for the First Time in Over 20 Years."

Spectator, March 26, 2005, "Portrait of the Week," profile of Johnson Beharry, p. 6; May 7, 2005, Paul Robinson, "Medal Power: Paul Robinson Says That Johnson Beharry, VC, Is a Very Special Person, but Awards for Gallantry Are Not Always as Special as They Once Were," p. 26.

Telegraph (London, England), September 25, 2006, "‘You're a Very Special Person,’ Says the Queen," profile of Johnson Beharry; July 4, 2007, Chris Hastings, "Hero's Tale is ‘Too Positive’ for the BBC."

Times (London, England), March 18, 2005, Alan Hamilton, "Quick Thinking in Face of Intense Enemy Fire," profile of Johnson Beharry.

Times Literary Supplement, January 12, 2007, Ian F.W. Beckett, review of Barefoot Soldier, p. 28.

ONLINE

Australian Broadcasting Company Web site,http://www.abc.net.au/ (March 19, 2005), Jane Hutcheon, transcript of radio interview with Johnson Beharry.

BBC London Web site,http://www.bbc.co.uk/ (March 18, 2005), "A ‘Great Hero’ Who Saved Comrades," biography of Johnson Beharry; "Soldier Wins VC for Iraq Bravery," profile of Johnson Beharry; (December 10, 2006), Kurt Barling, "In the Face of Danger," profile of Johnson Beharry.

BookCrossing.com,http://www.bookcrossing.com/ (January 5, 2007), review of Barefoot Soldier.

British Postal Museum & Archive Web site,http://postalheritage.org.uk/ (November 27, 2007), Nick Cook, biography of Johnson Beharry.

Caribbean Development Trust Web site,http://www.caribbeandevelopmenttrust.com/ (November 2, 2007), "Private Johnson Beharry, Victoria Cross Recipient, to Serve as Honorary Patron of the Caribbean Development Trust."

CBC News Web site,http://www.cbc.ca/ (March 19, 2005), "British Soldier Awarded Rare Victoria Cross," profile of Johnson Beharry.

Express Bookshop Web site,http://www.expressbookshop.com/ (November 27, 2007), biography of Johnson Beharry.

Little, Brown Book Group Web site,http://www.littlebrown.co.uk/ (November 27, 2007), biography of Johnson Beharry.

Ministry of Defense Web site,http://www.operations.mod.uk/ (March 18, 2005), "Private Johnson Gideon Beharry—Victoria Cross," biography of Johnson Beharry.

Mirror.co.uk,http://www.mirror.co.uk/ (September 28, 2005), Antonia Hoyle, "Private's Progress," profile of Johnson Beharry.

Mishmash Bookshop Web log,http://mishmashbookshop.blogspot.com/ (November 10, 2006), profile of Johnson Beharry.

National Army Museum Web site,http://www.national-army-museum.ac.uk/ (November 27, 2007), "Barefoot Soldier: VC Hero Johnson Beharry Speaks at the National Army Museum," profile of Johnson Beharry.

New Black Magazine,http://www.thenewblackmagazine.com/ (November 27, 2007), profile of Johnson Beharry; Andrea Webb, review of Barefoot Soldier.

100 Great Black Britons Web site,http://www.100greatblackbritons.com/ (November 27, 2007), profile of Johnson Beharry.

Talking Proud,http://www.talkingproud.us/ (March 21, 2005), "Private Johnson Beharry, the Victoria Cross, Iraq Hero," profile of Johnson Beharry.

Victoria Cross Web site,http://www.victoriacross.org.uk/ (November 27, 2007), biography of Johnson Beharry.

We Were There,http://www.wewerethere.mod.uk/ (November 27, 2007), "Private Johnson Beharry, Victoria Cross (VC)," biography of Johnson Beharry.

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