Tags: general | harold k johnson | wwii

Remembering My Friendship With General Harold K. Johnson

Remembering My Friendship With General Harold K. Johnson
(Studioclover/Dreamstime.com)

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Wednesday, 01 August 2018 12:14 PM Current | Bio | Archive

These days some TV personalities lump everyone who puts on a military uniform into a class they call "our heroes."

Heaven knows there are many military men and women who have done heroic deeds, but every 18-year-old enlistee who puts a uniform on is not yet a hero.

I, for example, wore an Air Force uniform for 12 years and never performed one heroic act. It seems to me that it is demeaning to those who sometimes sacrifice their own lives for their brothers and sisters at arms, or lose limbs and worse in combat. War brings out the best in some people and it has been so throughout our history.

I met and became friends with one such person from WWII. My last assignment was on an Army Post, Fort Lee, Virginia, and The Air Defense Command had a modern and fairly sophisticated radar that was headquartered on the Post and I worked there. We had access to most of the Army facilities and on the walls in most of those buildings was a picture of the Army Chief of staff, General Harold K. Johnson. The four stars on his uniform told me that he had some stories to tell.

I soon learned that my observation was more than justified. General Johnson had been in WWII when he was captured in the Philippines by the Japanese and forced into the Bataan Death March. The brutality of The Japanese is well documented. The best account of those times that I have read is a book, "Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command" by Lewis Sorley (University Press of Kansas). As the ranking officer of the captives he had to take abuse from the captors while he labored to keep them alive and fed.

Little did I know or even think possible that I would one day meet that great man and even become his friend.

I had joined the local Jaycee Chapter in the host community near Fort Lee, Petersburg, Virginia, and at the time I was their only military member. It was there where I grew and thrived on community service and when offered the office of Executive Director of the Virginia Jaycees, even though it meant I had to give up 12 years of service in the Air Force, I chose to accept the offer. Two years later I was offered a staff position at the United States Jaycees National office in Tulsa, Oklahoma. How could I refuse?

The Vietnam War was raging and so were the cities and particularly some of the College Campuses.

Our organization was made up of young men throughout the nation and many of them were in the war. Only two of us on the National Staff were veterans. The other was Lloyd Bandy, a Marine. Our National President in 1970, the fiftieth year of the Jaycees, elected to take on a national tour of College Campuses around the nation in an attempt to help quell the unrest and I was assigned to conduct seminars around the nation with the assistance of the National Strategy Information Center in New York. The center had been founded and was then run by Frank Barnett who had been General Lucius Clay's Russian interpreter when the Russians met the Americans at the Elbe River in 1945. Frank had assembled an impressive number of College Professors and other experts on National defense who were available to speak to groups of citizens, civic organizations, etc. I had begun arranging speaking opportunities using Jaycee chapters in cities around the country when I received word that Texas A&M was to conduct a graduate program at Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge in the summer of 1971. It had been suggested that I attend and audit the program to find speakers who might become involved with us.

I was more than eager to attend because I had learned that General Harold K. Johnson had become President of Freedom Foundation after retiring from the Army.

While there I decided to try to see him. Due to the fact that I had been a Tech Sergeant then and the current president of Freedoms Foundation had been Army Chief of Staff, General Harold K. Johnson, I was a bit shaky when I called his secretary and asked to see him. He told her to have me come on up to his office. I knocked on his office door and his booming voice invited me in. I walked in and saw that ever familiar face and I'm pretty sure I stood at attention. He put me at ease quickly and gestured for me to sit, I told him I had only been a Tech Sergeant when I separated from the Air Force and of my years on an Army Post. He replied that I shouldn't be concerned about that, in fact he said the Noncommissioned Officer was the backbone of the Military.

We chatted about what I was doing with the U.S. Jaycees and he told me how much he respected the organization and other civic organizations. I left his office feeling very special. The following night he and his wife Dorothy held a reception for the attendees and I returned to our Headquarters in Tulsa. I didn't expect to see him again. To my surprise a few weeks later our switchboard operator rang me to tell me that General Johnson was on the phone. Thrilled that he was calling I picked up the phone.

Right to the point he asked me if I knew Hugh O'Brian. I said I knew who he was (the star of the TV program Wyatt Earp) but had never met him. The General said that Hugh had paid a visit to Freedoms Foundation to see if it might be a good facility for his Youth Leadership Seminar. He had also told the General that he was hoping to find some organization to help him to grow his Youth Leadership Program. He said he had told Hugh of my recent visit at FF and said Hugh would like to talk with me if I was interested. As it happened Hugh was doing a summer stock play in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and General Johnson had his number there. I called him and invited him to come to Tulsa on his way back to Los Angeles and he countered by asking me to come to Beverly Hills and visit with him. We did adopt his program and helped to build it into a major event annually.

My time with the Jaycees was over in 1973 since the age limits were 18 to 35 years old and I had reached that plateau in my life. We moved back to Virginia and located in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where I began my fledgling Public Affairs Consulting business. General Johnson had also ended his Presidency of Freedoms Foundation and had joined fellow General George Olmsted at Financial General Bankshares. Ironically General Olmsted was one of the earliest Presidents of the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce as the Jaycees were called in the 1920's. Our offices were but a few minutes walk apart. I called on him frequently for advice and he always had time for me. That friendship continued until his death.

A small visitation for family and friends of the General was held at Arlington National Cemetery prior to his burial with full Military Honors. Sadly but proudly I was one of the few.

Dave Henderson was born in 1937 and lived his earliest years in Hickman Kentucky on the banks of the Mississippi River, once called the prettiest town on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Hickman was blessed to have a Carnegie Library at that time. It was there that his love of reading and dreaming began. A highlight of his professional career was to have led the public response to General Westmoreland's battle with CBS over their TV program, "The Uncounted Enemy, A Vietnam Deception." He also served as the General's press spokesman during the following years leading up to and during his libel suit in Judge Pierre Leval's Federal District court in New York. Dave contributed his services and expenses during those years. He previously served on The American Spectator board of directors. He is the author of the book "The Arkansas Project: From the United States Jaycees to the United States Justice Department and Whitewater." To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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DaveHenderson
These days some TV personalities lump everyone who puts on a military uniform into a class they call "our heroes."
general, harold k johnson, wwii
1410
2018-14-01
Wednesday, 01 August 2018 12:14 PM
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