World War II vet and lifelong Fort Dodge resident receives a Quilt of Valor
‘I was not afraid to die. I figured if that was going to happen, it was going to happen’
Don Johnson, a U.S. Army veteran from Fort Dodge, was part of one of the last units to fight the Japanese during World War II.
On Wednesday afternoon, Johnson, 95, was honored for his service when he was presented with a Quilt of Valor.
Kathleen Guymon, of Clare, made and presented the patriotic-themed quilt to Johnson. She has made eight quilts for veterans.
About 30 friends and family members gathered in the Fireside Room at Friendship Haven for the honor.
The mission of the Quilts of Valor Foundation is to cover service members and veterans with comforting, healing Quilts of Valor.
Johnson was nominated by nieces Nancy Beck, Judy Lennon and Susan Willroth.
He graduated from high school in Fort Dodge in 1942 and joined the military voluntarily in December that year.
Johnson and a friend, Bill Lamb, who later became chief of police in Fort Dodge, joined the service at the same time.
“We tried for Marines, but they were all filled up,” Johnson recalled.
So instead, the two joined the Army. Lamb ended up a quartermaster in Europe, while Johnson became a radio operator throughout the Pacific Ocean.
“I was 119th Radio Intelligence Company when I first went in,” he said. “I was radio operator at the time. We were trying to pinpoint where Japanese signal was coming from.”
During the war, Johnson displayed his courage.
“I thank God for being with me all the time I was there,” he said. “I was not afraid to die. I figured if that was going to happen, it was going to happen.”
By the time he was done, Johnson said he “made a complete circle,” throughout the Pacific.
He was in the Philippines with Gen. Douglas MacArthur when he was photographed smoking his corncob pipe in August of 1945.
Johnson reflected on the time spent overseas.
“Three-hundred days of combat,” he said. “Our unit was the last one to be fighting the Japanese during the war.”
He added, “I saw many Kamikazes come in and die.”
After the war, Johnson was sent to Korea.
“When the war ended, we were the only ones fighting yet and then we were shipped to Korea,” he said. “They were rolling boulders down from the mountains trying to kill ya. You had to look out.”
Johnson left Korea in December of 1945.
It took him three weeks to arrive back in the states.
“It took three days to arrange a train,” Johnson said.
He was discharged from Fort Leonard Wood on Dec. 23.
At 6 a.m. the next morning, Johnson’s sister took him to Omaha, Nebraska.
He came back to Fort Dodge with another friend.
“When we got back we were greeted with 15 inches of snow,” he said.
But he was home in time for Christmas.
“There wasn’t any traffic on the roads,” he said. “We went down off the Kenyon Bridge onto Avenue B.”
Johnson said he lived on Avenue E.
“I volunteered, I served, but I came back,” Johnson said.
Johnson celebrated his 95th birthday on June 23.
Doug MacCarthy, Johnson’s son-in-law, said he has a lot of admiration for Johnson, not only as a veteran, but as a person.
Johnson and his wife, Marion Johnson, owned Kaderabek Electric in Fort Dodge for many years.
MacCarthy said Johnson took all the calls on holidays and never asked employees to come in.
“He never sent out a bill from work he did on a holiday,” he said. “That was the kind of guy he was.”
Family has always been important to Johnson, according to MacCarthy.
“Extremely generous,” MacCarthy said. “Very accepting. The grandkids like to come see him. This is a family that likes to have a lot of fun together. Everyone does what they can to make their way back for holidays and special occasions.”
Johnson’s niece, Nancy Beck, is just happy they can honor Johnson now.
“I told Kathleen for a lot them it’s too late,” Beck said. “They are laying these quilts over their caskets. It’s an honor to be able to do this. He has been really excited for this day.”