WATM recently had an audience with 92-year-old WWII Army veteran Clark Johnson of Floreville, Texas. At the time Johnson had just gotten back from visiting his late wife’s family and his disabled son who he hadn’t seen in eight years, a trip he was given courtesy of Dream Foundation. Despite the fact that he has lung disease and has been given two months to live, he was very upbeat and candid during an amazing conversation that revealed hard-fought wisdom of an old vet.
Q: What was your rank?
A: Staff Sergeant. I was in Airborne, and 2-3 days after my jump in Normandy, I hurt my leg pulling a soldier out of the swamp. [He was] drowned but we needed the material on his back over and above that even the ones drowned that didn’t have nothing we pulled them onto shore so the Red Cross could come pick ’em up later.
My job mainly was a demolition man, but for the first 3-4 days in Normandy, there was so much confusion you would kill anyone that got in your way [laughs]; you wanted to say alive.
Q: What have your learned from your time in the military?
A: I don’t know, but I’ll tell you the government can pull anything out of a hat.
Q: What advice do you have for current members of the military?
A: If you get in front of a machine gun, like I did, and they take the knuckle out of your middle finger – don’t pull your hand away. Leave it up there, even let them get the other three fingers too. Because today – that knuckle out of my little finger pays me a thousand dollars a month.
I got two Purple Hearts and each one of ’em pays me a thousand bucks. That’s $2,000 a month [laughs]; you know, at least that puts food on the table.
Q: How did you cope with what you saw during your time in combat?
A: Silence is the best thing that I know. Because, now and then, you can say something, and then later on they ask you the same thing you said and they’re mixing stuff up. That’s not good for nobody.
Q: Do you remember when you got drafted?
A: Yeah, I got a letter that was typed, “Greetings!” (laughs)
Q: What went through your mind when you got that letter?
A: I was gonna lose my job. Hey, you know when you were a teenager and you got a job, you were lucky if you got a good one that paid big money.
Q: How old were you when you got drafted?
Q: What years did you serve?
Q: What is your advice to young Americans?
A: If you can’t go to college, due to money, whatever, there is nothing wrong with going to the Army or the Navy and getting out in about four years with a discharge that will help you for the rest of your life. I can’t lay it any cleaner than that.
Q: What is your definition of patriotism?
A: No politics.