WAHOO – A third-generation veteran who received a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War was honored as the Saunders County Veteran of the Month this week.
The Saunders County Board of Supervisors recognized Larry Johnson’s military service during its meeting on Tuesday. Saunders County Veterans Service Officer Mary Pace presented Johnson with a certificate. The Malmo man was joined by his wife and several members of his family during the presentation.
Johnson enlisted in the Navy Reserves while attending Prague High School. After he graduated, he enlisted in the Army on June 28, 1965. He went through basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., then trained at Fort Devens, Mass. and Fort Polk, La. before being deployed to Vietnam.
He was assigned to the First Infantry Division, also known as “The Big Red One,” a combined arms division and the oldest continuously serving Regular Army division to this day. He celebrated his 19th birthday twice, first when he crossed the International Date Line and again after arriving in Vietnam on his birthday.
Johnson said Vietnam was where he and his fellow soldiers became brothers. Two weeks after arriving, his squad was ambushed and 14 soldiers were killed. Only two non-commissioned officers and Johnson survived. The following month, he was clearing a mine field with another soldier when that soldier stepped on a mine and was severely injured. With fragment wounds on his legs and arms, Johnson carried the soldier out of the mine field.
The third injury Johnson sustained in Vietnam occurred in May 1966 when he and his squad were on ground patrol. They were fired upon as they passed a termite hill. The soldiers in front of him were shot, while the soldiers behind him were mortally wounded.
Johnson was wounded that day and sent first to Japan and then to Fitzsimons Air Force Base near Denver, Colo., for treatment. He spent three years there recovering. During that time, Johnson got married to wife JoAnn, and a son was born.
On May 19, 1969, Johnson was discharged from the Army with a medical retirement. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, the Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars, and the Purple Heart.
After leaving the military, Johnson and his wife had five more children. He has spent countless hours working with veterans organizations since leaving the military. He is a lifetime member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, the Purple Heart Association and the 40 & 8 (otherwise known as “La Societe”) which is by invitation only, a level of elite American Legion members.
As a member of the American Legion Post 254 in Prague for 34 years, Johnson served as post adjutant for 28 of those years and a member of the Color Guard from the beginning. He has been the chairman for the Burger Bar at Beer Barrel days and for the past seven years he served as the chairman of the tractor rides, raising money for scholarships given to local high school seniors.
Two years ago, Johnson saw a need to help homeless veterans. He began stocking the food pantry the Veterans Administration Clinic in Lincoln with dry goods and sundry items that veterans need.
He has also been part of the Saunders County Veterans Committee for the past 10 years.
Along with his service to local veterans organizations, Johnson also served his community in other ways. He served as a board member for a rural school district. He also is a board of trustee member for the Catholic Church Association, a member of St. John’s Cemetery board and since 1994 has been taking care of a once-abandoned cemetery in Prague called Willow Creek. On Memorial Day Johnson and his granddaughters place flags on the veterans graves and flowers for those that need them at seven different cemeteries.
Johnson was nominated by Ken Hanke. The Certificate of Appreciation for service in the Armed Forces of the United States of America reads: The Saunders county Supervisors wish to recognize your military service to the United States of America. Throughout our Nation’s history, it is the efforts of men and women such as yourself that have provided the freedoms we, as Americans, dearly enjoy today. Please accept our deepest gratitude and appreciation. Let us never forget your demonstrated sacrifice, service, love and commitment to your county.”