Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Romeoville, IL) He’s a born North Sider! Private First Class Verne (Red) J. Johnson, Jr., was born in the North Chicago area in the middle of one our infamous Chicago winters! Verne was one of four siblings, two boys and two girls.
Verne’s dad was a police officer and moved his family often as he accepted different assignments on the police force. Verne attended eight different grade schools in the various neighborhoods of Chicago. He attended Lakeview High School and had several part time jobs - delivering newspapers, working as a soda jerk at the local Walgreens and ushering at the local theater. He also boxed a bit at St. Andrews Gymnasium, home of the prestigious Golden Gloves boxing competition. A very humble Verne states he only sparred there, nothing more. Verne recalls he graduated from one of the schools he had previously attended, and it was this ability to accept change and adapt that would be helpful in the future when he was drafted into the Army at age 22, in 1950 during the Korean War.
At the time he received the news that he was drafted for the Korean War, Verne was working as a conductor for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). Verne recalls knowing a couple of friends who were drafted at the same time. From Chicago, he was sent to a base in Colorado to take pre-induction exams that confirmed his fitness to go to Korea. From Colorado, he went to Camp Cook in California and attended boot camp.
Following boot camp, Verne took a ship over to Japan and finally ended up in Korea. On the ship, Verne recalls that most of his shipmates were seasick and were not able to eat. Verne states he learned the secret to avoiding seasickness from a crew member who told him to make sure he had a full stomach! Although this sounds contradictory, Verne says he was never seasick after that! When he arrived in Korea, Army trucks were there to pick up Verne and the other soldiers to take them to a base camp. Verne was selected to be on the front line, however, he did not know how to use or shoot a weapon. Having no choice, he learned quickly with target practice.
Verne remembers being stationed up on a hill for almost a year. He and the other soldiers lived on the front line where they slept and ate canned rations. Verne states his favorite was franks ‘n beans! Fortunately for Verne, this was about the only available food, so it was good that he liked it! There was “time off” from the front line, and when he had R&R time, Verne would write to his family back home. The food was definitely better when he was off the front lines!
Verne describes that from the top of the hill he could see and feel the Napalm bombs going off on various targets. He remembers mortar exchange in battle with the Koreans, who were stationed on another hill. Winters, Verne explains, were brutal with temperatures down to 40 below zero. There was no number of layers of clothing that were enough to keep you warm out there.
Verne served his 2 years of military duty and returned home in October of 1952. He returned the way he was sent, by ship, no seasickness on this trip back to the States! He was elated to be back at home! Verne returned to work with the CTA, and became a supervisor. In 1955, Verne changed jobs to become a Police officer. At the time, the CTA did not have a pension program for their employees but the police force did. He served on the police force for 32 years in many roles, one of which was as a board member for the Fraternal Order of Police. He recalls an experience that while he was on a call, his squad car had been vandalized with the windows completely smashed out. Verne states he drove his car out of the area and made the decision to retire after that occurrence. He retired at age 58.
Verne met his future wife while she was working in a local tavern owned by her German family. They married in 1960 and had two children, a son and daughter. He is now a grandfather and great-grandfather!
Verne resides on the South side and enjoys spending time with his fiancé, attending social activities and watching all types of sports.
Private First Class Verne J. Johnson, Jr., you are an American Hero. Enjoy your well -deserved Honor Flight!