Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part I

“Koji, funerals don’t do a damn thing for me anymore.”

That was Mr. Johnson’s reply while I was driving us to Old Man Jack’s funeral.  I had asked him to help hold me together as I knew I would fall apart.

“Oh-oh,” I thought to myself when I heard that curt reply.  “I guess I hit a nerve…”


Old man Jack on the left, Mr. Johnson on the right. Taken June 30, 2005.

Mr. Johnson was Old Man Jack’s next door neighbor.

Since 1953.

Nearly SIXTY years.  Hell, I ain’t that old yet.  Well, I’m close.

They got along real well for those 60 years… except Jack was a WWII sailor… and Mr. Johnson was a WWII Marine.  They reminded each other of it often.

Lovingly, of course.

Old Man Jack happily reminisced that “…us white caps would also tussle with them Marines ‘cuz they thought they were better than us”.  But Jack would have gotten the short end of the stick if he took on Mr. Johnson.  He towered over Jack and me…

And Mr. Johnson was a decorated WWII Marine.

Decorated twice…that I know of.


Our cozy neighborhood called him “Johnnie”.  I always addressed him as Mr. Johnson…He used to say, “Damn it, Koji.  I wish you’d stop calling me that.”

I never did call him Johnnie. I just couldn’t.

But in the end, we found out his real name was Doreston.  Doreston Johnson.

Born August 1, 1923 in Basile, Louisiana.  A tiny town, he said, and everyone was dirt broke.

I wish I knew why he wanted to go by “Johnnie” but later, I discovered Doreston was his father’s name.


After Jack passed away, I visited with him.  He opened up a bit.

The Depression made it tough on everybody but then war…

When war broke out, he was gung ho like many young boys at that time.

It was expected.  You were branded a coward if you didn’t enlist or eluded the draft.  You were at the bottom of the heap if you got classified 4F.

He said went to the Army recruiting station.  They said they met their quota, couldn’t take him right away and to try again next week.

He then went to the Navy recruiter.  They also said pretty much the same thing but that there was an outfit “over there that’ll take ya”.

It was the United States Marine Corps.

Notice the 1903 Springfield in this 1942 recruiting poster.

The Marines “took him”…right then and there, he said.

Mr. Johnson said, “I was a dumb, stupid kid at that time”  – slowly shaking his head…but with a boyish little grin.


It was 1941…  When the United States Navy had their backs against the beaches…  MacArthur blundered after Pearl Harbor and thousands of soldiers were taken prisoner in the Philippines.

The country’s military was poorly equipped and poorly trained.  With outdated equipment like the 1903 Springfield and the Brewster Buffalo.  And most gravely, the US Navy was outgunned.

Mr. Johnson was in for it.

To be continued.  Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part II here

50 thoughts on “Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part I”

      1. Well, this time, I won’t praise you for YOUR writing skills…since a bazillion good people know that! 😉 It is so hard to write something to honor a person without dishonoring them as only they know what it was like to be under fire.

    1. His story is similar to Jack’s and yet so different… Their story of enduring the impossible can only be told by others now but only they knew the horrors we were spared…

    1. More to come…but I wish I could have met your dad, Nancy… but in a way, we have met his innocence of his youth and of his love for your mom through your efforts… Thank you.

  1. They say that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you better. I think there is something to this, Koji-san. It sounds to me as if Old Man Jack and Mr. Johnson were close friends, as Swabbies and Sea-going Bellhops are when they’ve known each other for a long time. When I lived in Vista, California, my next-door neighbor was a retired Chief Petty Officer by the name of Wilson. I always called him Mr. Wilson because he deserved my respect. Mr. Wilson was a World War II submariner. Talk about sea stories; he had 36 years worth of them. This was in 1988, and he was already 82 years old. I’m sure he’s passed on by now, but he was a good friend, and a good man.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Gunny, for your compliment. My only mission is to try to give readers of our day a watered-down view into what these young boys did for God and country 70 years ago. I am not good at story writing – I just try to repeat what they told me with honor and without malice… and thank you for serving, sir.

    1. Thanks, Geeez, for stopping by… Like you, there are some things about WordPress that I just can’t figure out (like how to update the infamous “Blogroll” on the right side of my page) but this is a “sticky”. I think I wrote the series maybe two years ago… We were blessed to have had these two WWII combat vets just living across the street from us.

  2. I can’t believe I missed this post? Fantastic.
    [off topic – you reprimanded me a while back for not warning you to get some tissues. Well, here’s the warning for tomorrow. I needed a handkerchief to put it together – you’ll know which part….]

  3. I wish I had never left blogging…There’s so much to catch up on and you’ve just given me a reason to GET hooked for a long time!!!! Part 2, all EYES O_O

  4. Koji, don’t mean to bother you, but i have a Japanese language question.
    In my notes, I have jotted down that the word banzai was not really used by them during the war, but yelled ‘Wah! Wah!’. On google says that it translates to ‘Wow! Wow!’ Is this correct?

    1. Wow, wow? OMG!

      Well, during hostilities, Japanese military yelled, “Tenno heika, Banzai!”. or… Wait for it… 天皇陛下万歳. Betcha never seen that befire, eh? 😉

      Answer is complex. Just like our kids today, young Japanese kids know very, very little of WWII. My guess us if you asked one, “What does 天皇陛下万歳 mean?”, they would have no idea.

      In my humble opinion, current kids do likely use banzai to mean like “hurrah”, or “Yeah!! Exams are over!” Therefore, the “wow”.

      But during WWII, it had the context of exulting Hirohito as their god, king, emperor, whatever… Like “His Majesty, the Emperor!” or if you were British, “Long live the King!”

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