West Marin boys, joining Marine Corps, will report to duty in December

Darby Johnson
Holton and Sawyer Johnson, who grew up part-time in Inverness, signed up for the Marine Corps. “Moms have had kids shipped off in much scarier times in history,” their mother, Darby, said.   

Last Monday evening, as President Trump discussed expanding American military presence in Afghanistan, the Johnson family gathered for pizza on the porch outside their home in Novato. Nineteen-year-old Holten and Sawyer, 18, recalled memories of playing football for Casa Grande High School (“He threw his first touchdown to me,” Sawyer said of his older brother), while their mother, Darby, looked on with equal doses of pride and trepidation. The family wes just notified a few days earlier that Holten and Sawyer were to report to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego on Dec. 18. “We always knew they would sign up,” Ms. Johnson, who grew up in Inverness, said. “I have days when it’s hard, but moms have had their kids shipped off in much scarier times in history.” For Holten and Sawyer, the mood is one of excitement. The brothers, who have a younger sister, have been preparing for service most of their lives. They grew up hunting and shooting firearms, living on and off in Inverness and Oregon, and military service runs in their family. Their grandfather was in the Air Force, an uncle was in the Army and a cousin in the Marines. (Their great grandfather, Charlie, started the bygone Johnson’s Oyster Farm.) The brothers attended West Marin School for a few years after initially being homeschooled. Sawyer currently works at Bivalve Dairy in Point Reyes Station while Holten, a mechanic, works at a dairy in Santa Rosa. Their four-year enlistment with the Marines begins with 13 weeks in boot camp. Afterwards, they both have their eyes on joining the sniper program. Are they worried about the prospect of deployment? “I hope to get shipped out,” Holten said. “I didn’t pick my job to sit in some base in Virginia.” Darby and her husband, Chip, have supported their sons through the entire process and have themselves felt support from the community. Susan Velloza, whose son Jake died in Iraq in 2009, reached out to Ms. Johnson despite having gone through such a tragedy, Ms. Johnson said. “It’s amazing how humble somebody can be,” she added. On Monday evening, between bites of pepperoni pizza, Sawyer and Holten prodded their mother to say which of them she thinks will make the better marine. “I think you’ll both be great soldiers. It just sucks I didn’t raise nerds,” she joked. “Between bull riding and football, you’ve always done the challenging thing and we’re used to it, in a way. But please get home in one piece.”