Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center dedicates new portrait of namesake


PFC Ralph H. Johnson, painted by Vietnam-era Navy Veteran and Artist-Illustrator Rick Austin

On Friday, Jan. 31, the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center dedicated a new official portrait of their namesake, PFC Ralph H. Johnson. Painted by Vietnam-era Navy Veteran and Artist-Illustrator Rick Austin, the portrait is an accurate image of PFC Johnson.

While the original portrait of PFC Johnson is a beautiful artistic rendering, it was brought to Charleston VAMC’s attention during the March 2018 commissioning of the USS Ralph Johnson that the image was not a true likeness of PFC Johnson. Through events leading up to the commissioning, the Johnson family received a copy of his official enlistment photo. Once that photo was shared with the medical center, the VA began working with the Johnson family to find an artist who would assist with a portrait in PFC Johnson’s true likeness.

During the dedication ceremony, PFC Johnson’s sister Helen Richards said, “That is Ralph. It looks just like him. It was so important to me to have an accurate portrait and I can’t thank Rick and the VA enough.”

Austin, a volunteer at the Charleston VA who worked closely with the family and the medical center for six months to create his portrait, said Ralph became part of his family in the process.

“Ralph spoke to me a lot while he was in my living room,” said Austin. “I hope his portrait speaks to many others.”

More than 200 Veterans, Marines, Servicemembers, and others attended the dedication. The audience included Lt. Patrick “Clebe” McClary and Alex Colvin who both were wounded in the attack that claimed PFC Johnson’s life. Colvin who was Johnson’s best friend says he thinks of Ralph every day when he looks in the mirror and sees the scar from the attack. Both McClary and Colvin state they likely would not be here today if not for the ultimate sacrifice made by PFC Johnson in the Quan Duc Duc Valley in Vietnam in 1968. 

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