In appreciation for his service in the Korean War, Gerald Johnson of Pierre will be honored with a trip aboard Mission 7 of the Midwest Honor Flight on September 18. He, along with over 80 veterans from northwest Iowa, South Dakota, and southwest Minnesota will travel to Washington, D.C. for a tour of the war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
When he received his draft notice, Gerald Johnson decided to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. “I don’t know why I chose the Marines,” said Johnson. “My draft notice came up in 1951, and I was to go for my pre-induction physical in December, and then I would go to boot camp in February or March of 1952. Since I had been drafted, I couldn’t find a job, so I enlisted instead and reported to San Diego in January 1952.”
The 1949 graduate of Montrose High School had been working for his uncles for a couple of years when he was called up for duty.
At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Johnson went through boot camp. “At that time it was eight weeks of basic training. With the Korean War going on, most of the time guys went from boot camp overseas.” Instead, Johnson reported to Seabee school in Port Hueneme, CA. “I was there sixteen weeks going to school to run the equipment.”
When he’d completed his Seabee training, Johnson was sent to Camp Pendleton, CA, and then to the Nevada atomic testing grounds, Camp Desert Rock. At Camp Desert Rock, Johnson was a troop observer among the personnel from all branches of military service to witness the heat and blast of the atomic bomb and see the effects of the explosions on military equipment.
Finally deployed to Korea, Johnson worked as a heavy equipment operator extending airport runways. Johnson says he didn’t see much in the way of action because a cease fire – or as he calls it, the King’s I X – had been called. “Everyone was just watching each other over the 38th parallel.” Johnson notes that a peace treaty for the Korean War has yet to be established; only the signed cease fire on July 27, 1953.
“The communists were on one side of the 38th parallel and we were on the other side,” said Johnson. “The trenches have developed into kind of a permanent installation now. When I was there, they were just starting that.”
Fourteen months of Johnson’s three years of active duty during the Korean War were spent overseas. After he returned home, he spent five inactive years in the reserve, “because at that time you had to serve eight years if you enlisted.”
Soon after he returned home, Johnson married Ruth Ann Schumacher, his wife of more than sixty years, on June 26, 1955. They added three children to their family, son Gary and daughters Paula Barber and the late Barbara (Beaba) Terca, and made their home in Blunt.
In 1955, he joined his father in the precursor to A-G-E Corporation Contractors, which was established in 1964, putting his experience with heavy equipment to work building dams and doing soil conservation projects.
Although son Gary now runs the company, Johnson says “my grandsons are making their presence known in the company,” continuing the company into a fourth generation.
A-G-E Corporation “worked a lot of Hughes, Sully, Stanley and Hyde Counties, and worked on state road building for quite a few years.” In his retirement, Johnson operated heavy equipment for the construction of the Sutton Bay Golf Course. “I did lots of work up there after I got semi-retired,” said Johnson. “Some of the guys had a phobia about running some of that heavy equipment, so I did it, built their golf course, roads, and did dirt work.” When A-G-E was contracted to work at Sutton Bay last year, “we decided I was too old, so they got somebody else. Nothing lasts forever.”
Johnson reconnected with Marines he served with at heavy equipment company Caterpillar’s CONEXPO. “The guys I went overseas with, we went to the heavy equipment show Caterpillar has every five or six years,” said Johnson. “My dad and I went down to the equipment show, and they had all kinds of new equipment that was coming out. It was pretty interesting.”
As president of the Associated General Contractors of South Dakota, Johnson has previously traveled to Washington, DC in 1979. “I went down there for several contractor meetings. Of course some of that stuff we’re going to visit now wasn’t there.”
Johnson says he is particularly looking forward to seeing the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial. “I helped build that,” said Johnson. Fundraisers for the memorial “came around at payday, and you had to give a pre-determined dollar amount that each one had to pay. The government didn’t pay for it, we paid for it ourselves. It was one of them deals where you had no choice – you were told ‘you will donate.’”
Midwest Honor Flight Mission 7 members’ tour will consist of a visit to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and to the Iwo Jima (Marine), Air Force, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Memorials. The flight is sponsored by the Lyon County (Iowa) Riverboat Foundation. Midwest Honor Flight invites the public to join them in making the Mission 7 Welcome Home special by filling up the Sioux Falls Convention Center Arena with people and posters when the veterans return from their trip at 9:15 pm on Saturday, September 18.
Midwest Honor Flight is a non-profit, volunteer organization dedicated to providing veterans respect, honor, and closure with an all-expense-paid trip to our nation's capital.