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A Funeral Befitting a Fallen Hero

Thousands of mourners filled the Saint Rita Shrine Chapel and thousands more lined the streets of Beverly to pay their final respects to a fallen firefighter and beloved neighbor.

The rows of firefighters stretched on for as far as the eye could see. Flags flew and bagpipes played as the casket of one of their own was raised into Engine 123, one last ride for the fallen hero. 

Capt. Herbie Johnson, 54, died after injuries sustained while battling a fire on Nov. 2. He was laid to rest on Thursday after an overflowing crowd at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel remembered the man they knew and loved. 

"I can stand up here for a year and talk about the fun, the laughter and the tears that we all shared," said his brother John Johnson while delivering a eulogy for his older brother. 

Read More: Neighborhood Says Goodbye to Herbie Johnson

Johnson is survived by his wife Susan and children Thomas, Laurie and Michael "Mickey". Whether it was the pride he took in Thomas' service in the Marines, his passion for Mickey's college football career or the the loving bond he had with Laurie, he was a father first. 

"Every paper he wrote at work he always put TLM on it," John Johnson said. 

In the days after his death, friends, neighbors and fellow firefighters shared their memories of the man they knew and loved. He was a man of loving smiles and loud laughs. 

"Herb left an impact on wherever he went," said his best friend Dan McAuliffe during the service. "To know Herbie is to have a Herbie story . . . whether you were from St. Basil, St. Rita, St. Cajetan, the fire department or any other place where Herb left is mark, Herb loved you. And I know you loved him too."

Johnson was the oldest in a family of eight children. A family filled with firefighters and police officers. Service is part of who they are. 

He played basketball, football and even tried hockey while a student at Saint Rita High School, the same school his sons would attend. It was in the classic Chicago sport of 16-inch softball where Herbie always shined.

"I would stand there and just watch that ball sail far into the sky," his sister Julie Johnson said. "After last night I truly believe half of the city of Chicago played softball with my brother."

Streets throughout Beverly and Mount Greenwood were lined with purple and black ribbons Thursday. Neighbors and school children stood silently as Johnson's funeral procession passed down the streets where almost everyone knew his name.

In a neighborhood filled with firefighters and police officers a large outpouring of sympathy and support might be expected, but the people lining the streets and filling the pews were not there simply because Johnson died a hero. They were there because he lived his entire life as one. 

During his homily Father Thomas McCarthy repeated a line that seemed to sum up the man and his spirit: "He was a bully for love and life."

A memorial fund has been established and will benefit the Johnson family. 

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Read More Coverage: 

  • Thousands Gather at Capt. Herbie Johnson's Wake
  • Memorial Fund Established For Capt. Herbie Johnson's Family
  • Photos: A Neighborhood in Mourning
  • Veteran Chicago Firefighter Dies on Duty

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