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Mr. Johnson, USMC – Part III


I figured if Mr. Johnson wanted to tell me more, he would have.

But as with Old Man Jack, I never asked for more.

I believe that’s how these combat vets want it.

They don’t want to be quizzed about what they said or asked to describe more.

They will tell you some things of what they experienced.  Probably to let the devils out that have been eating away at them for 70 years.

They have a built in limiter to keep more memories from popping back up…the things they saw or did that they try so hard to suppress to stay sane.  Every minute for the rest of their lives.

They deserve that respect.  Always.  And you feel honored they felt enough confidence in your character that you would accept what they were telling you as is.

I feel they appreciated that.

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I was alone with Old Man Jack during visitation. It was good as I was able to say good-bye in private… The mortuary didn’t invest in good quality Kleenex, though.

Mr. Johnson and I walked together into the little chapel where Old Man Jack’s funeral service was being held.  His flag-draped coffin was proudly presented up front.

It was mostly relatives as all his friends had passed away before him.  I felt distant as I don’t recall ever seeing them visiting with Old Man Jack.  But they were relatives.

Mr. Johnson and I were likely the only ones there outside of family besides a daughter of one of his fellow employees from the old Northrop plant.  We had met once when Old Man Jack was in ICU from a tremendously bad intestinal infection.

His only daughter Karen was busy going over things with the reverend.  You will have to excuse me if I used the wrong term for him; it was a Christian service and I am not.

Mr. Johnson and I sat next to each other in the back row.

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Here is Old Man Jack on our tiny patio deck, in his trademark blue plaid shirt losing another “chat” with his only child, Karen. I’m sure – in spite of his boasts – he lost to his lovely wife in a similar fashion through the years… Hence, “A man ain’t got a chance.

Karen finally approached us.  It was good to see her again.  I hadn’t seen her since she moved Old Man Jack up to their mountain home just five months earlier.

We greeted and it was already tough not to shed a tear.  She then said, “Koji, we have enough young relatives here to be pallbearers but I know you and dad were close.  I think he would like it very much if you would be one of his pallbearers.”

I looked at Mr. Johnson.  I guess I was unknowingly seeking his acceptance knowing they both fought a bitter war together.

Mr. Johnson smiled and nodded his head as if he knew I was asking him if it would be OK.

It was emotional.  My eye plumbing was already leaking a bit before but it broke loose.

After Old Man Jack fought on “those stinkin’ islands” and had nightmares for the remainder of his life, I was now going to help carry this great American on his last journey.

I kept the gloves in memory of Old Man Jack and the honor he allowed me.

It is a mark of the Greatest Generation.  Forgiveness.  Honor to the end.

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Just a short vid of the flag presentation to Jack’s daughter.  (I apologize for the video quality but they only sell the video cameras with the little swing out screen now.  It’s hard to get used to and hard to see the image in bright sun…and impossible to hold still…but towards the end, you can see Mr. Johnson sitting right behind her.)

I wondered what was going through Mr. Johnson’s mind after saying to me earlier “…funerals don’t do a damn thing for me anymore”.

He didn’t get teary-eyed once.  A true Marine, I thought.  I also briefly felt he had his mind on other pressing matters.

I was about to find out.

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After the ceremony, I helped Mr. Johnson back to my car.  He hadn’t said much at all nor showed ANY emotion.

I opened the car door for him; it would be a struggle for him to get back into my low-slung machine with his bad back and unsteady legs.

But he stopped short of getting in.  He towered over the roof of the car as he was standing on the curb next to other graves.  I remember clearly his right arm was on the roof of the car and his left was seeking support from the top of the passenger door glass.

Then he spoke.

“Koji, I’m sorry I was so curt with you in the car…when I said funerals don’t do a damn for me anymore.  I hope you’ll let me explain why.”

I didn’t know what was coming.  He continued but he had that look on his face.  The same glassed-over gaze Old Man Jack had when he was going to talk about something he was trying to forget.

“Koji, the Japs jumped us and they jumped us good.  Real good.  We were caught out in the open.  We had fighter cover but there was just a shit load of them.  Just too many.  They were coming down at us from every which way.”

He mimicked with his right hand that he had elevated towards the sky toy planes – just like we did when we were kids.  But these weren’t toys that day.  He was reliving a battle…but he didn’t say where or when.  Just like Old Man Jack.

“They just kept coming and coming.  We took a bad licking.  A real bad one.  We just kept reloading and firing at them.

We lost a lot of good men.”

He stopped for a moment.  He never once said he was on the Big E.

“I got put in charge of the Burial Detail.  There weren’t too many of us left that could get around.”  He was, I assume, talking about his fellow Marines.  He was a Private at that time and at the Battle of Santa Cruz; you will find out later how I discovered that.  But it’s not good when a young Marine private who was in boot camp just months earlier gets put in charge of a burial detail on board the greatest lady of the sea.

“I don’t know who the son-of-a-bitches were.  They were wrapped up in canvas and a shell would be put inside at their feet to weight them down.  Then we’d dump them over the side.  We’d salute.  Then we’d do it again…and again…and again.  I don’t remember how many times I saluted.  I didn’t keep count.  But that’s why funerals don’t do much for me anymore.  I had been in enough of them.”

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I was left humbled and voiceless.  Too late I realized Mr. Johnson WAS having sickening thoughts running through his mind – from the time when I asked him to help hold ME together.

And I was ignorant to even think he had his mind on other pressing matters during the funeral.

With that selfish request, I instead helped unleash some vile memories within him.

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Mr. Johnson himself would pass away shortly thereafter.

More to come in Part IV.  I hope you’ll stay tuned.

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…”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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