Gig Harbor High School junior pitcher Logan Gerling found out earlier in the week whose name he’d be wearing on the back of his jersey during Saturday’s “Tribute to the Troops” baseball game at Cheney Stadium.
It was Sgt. First Class Johnny Walls from the United States Army, who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2009 at age 42.
Gerling reached out to the family on Facebook a couple days before the game to let them know how honored and excited he was to wear the jersey.
“I found them. I wanted to make a real effort to show them how much it means to me,” Gerling said.
He followed up the online chat with a more personal touch. Following the game’s last pitch, Gerling met Roger and Patsy Johnson — Walls’ stepfather and mother — at home plate. In an emotional scene, Gerling took the special edition camouflage jersey off his back, folded it, and handed it to the Johnsons.
It was a privilege and an honor. There’s something behind it. Without the soldiers, we’re not here.
Logan Gerling, Gig Harbor High pitcher
“It was a privilege and an honor,” Gerling said. “There’s something behind it. Without the soldiers, we’re not here.”
And it meant something to Patsy, also. She said she still thinks of Walls often.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “It’s a real honor. It’s just neat to know somebody else is thinking the same thing.”
Roger Johnson, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to ’89, said Walls was the only person he knew who loved to fish as much as he did.
“It’s nice that they’re honoring these people nowadays,” Johnson said.
Patsy said Walls came off as shy, but people remember him for being a fun guy to be around.
“He was one of the people that you thought was quiet and then he was a nut,” Patsy Johnson recalled. “He was a fun one. That’s what everyone says, they remember all the fun they had with him. He acted shy and he loved his job. It was his chosen career.”
Walls, who was from Bremerton, entered the Army in September 1985. He was killed after being attacked by small arms fire in Uruzgan, Afghanistan.
Gig Harbor lost the game to South Kitsap, 5-4, but the score of the game didn’t seem to matter much to anyone in attendance.
Each player’s jersey had the name and rank of a U.S. soldier who had given his or her life in combat. For Gig Harbor starter Michael Toglia, a UCLA signee, it put his life into perspective, he said.
Just to know these men fought for us, fought for the opportunities that we have as a team, it’s incredible. They were no older than me.
Mike Toglia, Gig Harbor senior pitcher
“It’s an incredible honor,” Toglia said. “When they were doing the announcements, I got chills when they were doing the national anthem. Just to know these men fought for us, fought for the opportunities that we have as a team, it’s incredible. They were no older than me. I did my research on (the soldier whose name was on Toglia’s jersey). He was 19 when his life was lost in Vietnam. That’s next year for me.”
The South Kitsap High School choir opened the game with the national anthem and 26th District state Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, gave a keynote address before the game.
“We wouldn’t be out here today, doing what we love to do, if it hadn’t been for those guys who made the sacrifice,” said Gig Harbor coach Pete Jansen. “That’s something we maybe lose track of and take for granted. I think this is a really nice thing that kids and everybody can focus on. There’s more important things in life than baseball.”