grandpa.jpg (142820 bytes)

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Private Harry Johnston

    Private Harry Johnston was my grandfather; my father's father.  At age 15, he ran away from his orphanage in Iowa to join the Army.  He changed our family name from Johnson to Johnston so they could not track him , lied about his age, and entered the Army prior WWI.  At the time, there was a famous British explorer, Sir Harry George Johnston and I suspect this inspired the choice in name changes.  We do not have detailed records on his service, but we know he was in the horse cavalry or horse artillery.  The picture above of him on a horse was supposedly taken at Camp Oglethorpe, Georgia.  When he reached Europe, he was handed a second pair of shoes and was informed he was now Infantry.  He was wounded in France in the Argonne.  As a little boy, I would sit in his lap and look at the severe scars on his forehead.  He told of how he was hit by a fragment from an enemy artillery shell and was unconscious for two days.  His scalp was completely peeled over his face and he was left for dead. Two days later, the burial detail came through tossing bodies on a horse drawn cart.  When they grabbed him, he awoke and they dropped him and ran off in fear.  They came back a couple of minutes later and took him to a field hospital.  His wounds were to the extent that nobody wanted to operate on him.  A young Army doctor in Paris took the mission and basically sewed up his scalp like the end of a sausage.  As the story goes, Grandpa brought all kinds of war souvenirs home.  This is a familiar story to all collectors of militaria.  He married grandma in the 1920s, and she tossed all of his stuff.

    WWI was not the end of military service for grandpa.  He entered the Navy in the 1930s.  When the US entered WWII, he was off to the Pacific.  While he was not wounded as he was in the First World War, he did escape death once again.  We don't know the name of the submarine, but grandpa was a maintenance chief on it.  While in port, he was struck with a appendicitis.  The ship left port without him and was sunk by friendly fire.  

    The last battle grandpa fought was a massacre.  As first hand witnesses have testified, grandpa entered the house from the war clutching his sea bag and unthinkingly tossed it down the basement steps.  My dad, about 6 at the time, began rifling through his sea bag and found a compromising picture of grandpa and a Hawaiian hula dancer.  Not unlike the Gestapo in the movies, he immediately turned the evidence over to the Supreme Allied Commander (grandma).  Grandpa lived for another 38 years, but he never rested after that day.  They both now lie in Arlington National Cemetery; he gave 34 years of military service to the United States of America.


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