Among the thousands of warriors in the United States military history, one is really special. Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson is officially the deadliest American soldier and maybe the most humble with 2,746 confirmed kills. He fought as a commander of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle nicknamed “Carnivore,” during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He helped directly to lead the ground assault with his men overwhelming the enemy with a relentless show of military might that left a trail of dead in his wake.
As a commander of “Carnivore,” he was obliged to report confirmed kills to his superiors. He used a green journal to catalog the dead trail left by his crew. The same green journal which revealed the astonishing tally — which only began to come lightly as he and co-writer James Tarr were researching his exploits for his memoir, also titled “Carnivore.”
Maybe, some other soldier could be a deadlier in an earlier wars, but since detailed records have been kept, Sgt. 1st Class Dillard Johnson tops the list. He grew up in Island, Ky., hanging out in strip mines and hunting deer with his daddy’s gun. Johnson’s first kill came at the tender age of 13 when he nailed a six-point buck with a .22-caliber rifle.
In high school, he joined the ROTC, and in 1986, he joined the Army, fulfilling a childhood dream spawned from the pages of comic books which led him later through his career.
In the dawn of Operation Iraqi Freedom, he joined Charlie Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, and he was tasked with some other objectives. He was going on to hunt bigger game. His first KIAs comes in March 2003 at the battle of As Samawah he wiped out a truckload of Iraqis with six high-explosive rounds, and that was only beginning.
He counted the dead by tallying rifles — and human heads — among the mangled or charred wreckage left behind by the Carnivore and that was during his first deployment.
In his second tour, in 2005, he changed his primary job, from the commander of Bradley Fighting Vehicle he became sharpshooter credited with 121 kills, his longest from 821 yards, a skill that was honed hunting in Kentucky during his childhood. His total kill score is second only to the late Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who had 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.
After two tours in the second Iraqi war, he comes back home with 37 medals in total, including a Silver Star for valor and four Purple Hearts. Johnson gives all the credit to his troop — call sign “Crazy Horse” — whose lineage dates back to legendary General George Custer.
He retired and lives in Daytona Beach, Fla., with his wife and four kids. After war there is war, he fought with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He lives and works as a consultant for an ammunition company. Johnson has a bullet permanently lodged in his leg and he doesn’t often talk about his career or his accolades or wartime souvenirs, not even the Iraq flag he took off Saddam Hussein’s limousine during the Operation Iraqi Freedom.