Dillard Johnson: The deadliest soldier in US military history

Author: Eric Sof

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In modern warfare, achieving the distinction of being the deadliest soldier in the history of the US military requires doing something extraordinary. The story of Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson is a prime example. Sgt. 1st Class Johnson is one of the most highly decorated soldiers in the storied history of the legendary 3rd Infantry Division.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Of the thousands of warriors in the history of the US military, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson stands out as a particularly noteworthy figure. With 2,746 confirmed kills to his name, he is officially the deadliest American soldier. Despite this distinction, he remains a humble man. Sgt. 1st Class Johnson served as a commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle, nicknamed “Carnivore,” during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

He played a crucial role in leading the ground assault alongside his men, using overwhelming military might to leave a trail of enemy casualties in his wake. It is no exaggeration to say that Sgt. 1st Class Johnson is a formidable and highly skilled soldier.

First tour: Carnivore

As the commander of “Carnivore,” Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson was responsible for reporting confirmed kills to his superiors. He used a green journal to document the casualties inflicted by his crew. It was only while researching his memoir, also titled “Carnivore,” with co-writer James Tarr that the full extent of his confirmed kills came to light.

Although other soldiers may have been deadlier in past wars, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson holds the record for the most confirmed kills since detailed records have been kept. He was raised in Island, Ky., and developed his marksmanship skills by hunting deer with his father’s gun. His first kill came at the young age of 13, when he used a .22-caliber rifle to shoot a six-point buck.

America's deadliest soldier Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson atop of Bradley Carnivore
America’s deadliest soldier Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson atop of Bradley Fighting Vehicle nicknamed “Carnivore” (Photo: XY)

Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson’s path to becoming the deadliest soldier in US military history began in high school, where he joined the ROTC. In 1986, he fulfilled a childhood dream by joining the Army. During the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was assigned to Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry. Given the task of hunting bigger game, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson quickly made a name for himself.

His first confirmed kills came in March 2003 at the battle of As Samawah, where he wiped out a truckload of Iraqis with six high-explosive rounds. He continued to rack up confirmed kills by tallying rifles and even human heads among the wreckage left behind by the Carnivore during his first deployment.

Second Tour: Infantry

During his second tour in 2005, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson changed his primary role from the commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle to a sharpshooter. In this role, he was credited with 121 confirmed kills, including his longest shot of 821 yards. Remarkably, he honed this skill while hunting in Kentucky during his childhood. With a total of 2,746 confirmed kills to his name, Sgt. 1st Class Johnson’s kill count is second only to the late Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL with 160 confirmed kills.

“I had already had the talent of being able to shoot due to the fact that I grew up with a rifle that wasn’t zeroed to me.”

Johnson said, recalling his early use of a gun calibrated for his father

Despite being deployed as a sharpshooter in his second tour, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson did not use a sniper rifle for his confirmed kills. He is not trained as a sniper and was not equipped with a sniper rifle. Instead, he relied on his exceptional marksmanship skills and the firepower of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle to rack up an impressive kill count. This, along with his kills from his first tour, helped him earn the distinction of being the deadliest soldier in US military history.

The deadliest soldier in US military history Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson brandishing Iraqi AK-47 during Operation Iraqi Freedom
Dillard Johnson during Operation Iraqi Freedom (Photo: XY)

Controversy

Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson has confirmed that his kill count of 121 enemies during his second tour is accurate, but he clarifies that he did not use a sniper rifle as he is not a trained sniper. He states that nowhere in his memoir “Carnivore” does it claim that he is a sniper. In an interview with Soldier of Fortune magazine, he stated that all of these kills were made with M4 and M14 rifles.

Achievements and recommendations

After completing two tours in the second Iraqi war, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson returned home with a total of 37 medals, including a Silver Star for valor and four Purple Hearts. Despite his individual accomplishments, Johnson credits the success of his troop, known as “Crazy Horse,” whose lineage dates back to the legendary General George Custer.

Post military life

These days, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson is retired and living in Daytona Beach, Fla., with his wife and four children. Like many veterans, he has found that the war does not end when they return home. Shortly after coming back from Iraq, Johnson was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has since recovered and now works as a consultant for an ammunition company.

Despite the physical and emotional toll of his military service, Johnson has a bullet permanently lodged in his leg and carries with him several wartime souvenirs, including an Iraq flag that he took off Saddam Hussein’s limousine during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He does not often speak about his career or accolades, choosing to keep these memories private.

Carnivore: A Memoir by One of the Deadliest American Soldiers of All Time
Carnivore: A Memoir by One of the Deadliest American Soldiers of All Time (Photo: Dillard Johnson)

In 2013, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson published his memoir “Carnivore: A Memoir by One of the Deadliest American Soldiers of All Time.” The book quickly became a bestseller, but also sparked controversy among veterans who questioned the accuracy of his claim to being the deadliest soldier in US military history. Despite this, the book remains a popular and highly regarded account of Johnson’s military experiences.

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14 thoughts on “Dillard Johnson: The deadliest soldier in US military history”

  1. it’s pretty common for 13 year old’s to hunt with a .22LR James Binkley. and any deer shot in the kill zone with any caliber will eventually go down, even if you have to track it for a while

  2. Fake whos calling him a fake. 22 lr I have killed many deer with a 22. Shoot them in the ear and drop like a sack of potatoes. I served during the same exact time he served and even communicated with him on radio.

  3. I thank this man for telling his story I hope one day alot more can be told by other heroes there are alot of people that wanted to serve but couldnt but to read a life experience like that it’s great beable to have a glance into what he has experienced thank you to all the vets

  4. Killing a deer with a 22lr is inhumane gotta wonder if a guy who has killed so many wouldn’t know this. But ok

  5. I have read his book, and he gives much credit to his crew and other crews for kills during battle. If anyone disagrees with his story, write your own.

  6. This might be the worst article ive ever read, what the hell. The opening paragraph was “Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson is officially the deadliest American soldier, and maybe the most humble with 2,746 confirmed kills.” and tell us about a fraction of them? like what…..

  7. I killed two deer with a glenfield 22 long rifle on 2 separate occasions. One shot to each kill. Call it luck or whatever the hell you want! The farthest distance that one walked away from where he was shot was 8ft. They both gave me the perfect angle. I have no reason to lie, just a damn good shooter. I know criticism will follow but everyone has a opinion, just like your asshole!

  8. No doubt a great soldier. However, seems like we are all bait click victims.
    2746 kills-hmmm. Definitely not with a rifle . Keep in mind there are only 365 days in a year. Do the math-lol.

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