U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
The following story appeared in the February 24, 2009, issue of the Missoulian and is reprinted here with permission. Mark Sant is a former Montana/Dakotas BLM employee.
When Marine Corps Sgt. Trevor J. Johnson of Forsyth is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on Tuesday, a small symbol of the fallen soldier's ranching roots will help carry him there.
It seems only appropriate that Johnson - a fifth-generation Montanan who grew up riding horses, herding cattle and mending fences - be escorted to his burial plot by Lonesome, a black mustang that once roamed the prairies and forested trails of this state.
Lonesome is one of 52 horses in the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd United States Infantry. Over the past seven years, the mustang has helped pull the caisson for 500 military funerals at Arlington Cemetery, assuming one of two lead spots on a six-horse team.
Prior to his mission out East, however, Lonesome lived in Montana.
How the horse came to assist in Johnson's interment ceremony on Tuesday took some forethought and initiative by a generous Montanan, who although he never met Johnson, wanted the Marine's family to have a symbol of the state as they mourned the loss of a loved one so many, many miles from home.
“I felt so bad for his family,” said Mark Sant, an archaeologist from Silver Star, just south of Butte. “He's just a young ranch kid. He seemed to have liked horses as much as I do.”
All Sant knew about the Colstrip High School graduate was what he read in the newspaper after his death. Johnson, 23, a decorated Marine, was killed by a roadside bomb on Jan. 27 while serving in Afghanistan.
Johnson was a father, son and husband. His memorial service was held Feb. 7 at the family ranch southeast of Forsyth. Six hundred people attended.
When Sant read that Johnson would be buried at Arlington, he e-mailed Gov. Brian Schweitzer's office to seek help finding Lonesome - a horse he had donated to the military several years ago.
One of Schweitzer's aides contacted the Montana National Guard, which in turn contacted the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or Old Guard, which assists in burial services at Arlington National Cemetery.
It's not a request the Old Guard hears often, but one that was easy to oblige, said Major Steven Cole. “It's stories like this that show the depths of care that all Americans have for their service men and women,” Cole said. “It took someone saying, ‘Can we do this?' and Chief (Anthony) Direnzo saying, ‘No problem.' ”
Lonesome was born in a Bureau of Land Management holding pen in Montana. Both his sire, a black mustang, and his dam, a paint from Nevada, were among several mustangs repossessed by the BLM from someone with inadequate holding facilities.
A BLM law enforcement officer first adopted Lonesome before Sant bought him several years later. “He was a good-looking horse,” said Sant, describing Lonesome as hardy and strong with tough feet. “I know a lot of people who don't even have to shoe mustangs.” Sant owned several other horses but had always wanted a mustang. He took Lonesome into the Pioneer and Sentinel mountains, hunting, packing and trail riding for several years. But the horse grew too big for recreational activities, Sant said. When Lonesome was 7, Sant donated him to the Old Guard. “I thought it'd be a great honor for him to work at Arlington,” he said.
Lonesome is now 14. For the past seven years, he has split the time between Fort Myer, Va., adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, and Fort Belvoir, Va., where the military takes the horses for rest and relaxation.
The Old Guard looks for both gray and black horses younger than 9. Most are draft-quarter horse crosses, Percherons, Morgans or mustangs. Cole said that to his knowledge, Lonesome is the only mustang from Montana.
The Old Guard runs a six-horse hitch on a caisson, which was originally built in the early 20th century to haul military cannons. Today, it's used to haul caskets.
Just as Johnson took the lead in the battlefield, Lonesome will take the lead on Tuesday. A Montana-grown horse will carry the body of one of Montana's brave soldiers. It's not much, but Sant hopes that connection makes a hard day for the Johnson family a little easier.
Copyright © 2009 Missoulian