You should meet Harold Johnson. I visit him whenever I can and it’s always an event. Harold Johnson is one of the patriarchs of our church. He has a neat apartment in a retirement home in nice part of Grand Rapids. He is a prayerful godly man. He’s been a part of the church I pastor since its early days. He served on the church board for years. He loves news about the church. He always tells me that he is happy to see that the church is always full when he visits. He is especially interested in hearing about people who are new to the faith.
He and his wife raised their children for God. His eyes moisten when he talks about his children or grandchildren or the church or the things of the Lord. He listens to Christian radio through the day and has a stack of worn Bibles beside his bed.
Yesterday a hospital visit took me to Grand Rapids in the wee hours of the morning. After my visit I drove over to see Harold. I joined him for breakfast in the dining room. He said; “I have a lot to be thankful for. I have to remember that. You have to be careful that you don’t let yourself become ungrateful. You always have to watch that.”
He’s been a widower now for about four years. While I was talking to him one of the ladies finished her breakfast and greeted Harold on the way past the table. The other men at the table smiled and teased him. “One of his girlfriends,” they said. “Oh, really?” “I’m Harold’s pastor and I’m going to be expected to give a full report on his behavior when I get back to town. Does he have many girlfriends? “Oh, yes, many” they both agreed, and cackled a little. I looked at the guilty party and he smiled. “Is there anything more I should know?” I inquired.
He finished his breakfast while I caught up on news of his children and grandchildren. When he was done he said; “Come with me to my room for a minute, Pastor, there’s something I want you to see.”
Harold is a part of a vanishing group of very special people in our country. He is a veteran of the Second World War. He was involved in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. He came ashore on Omaha Beech less than twenty-four hours into the engagement. He participated in the liberation of France. He said; “You should have seen it. We were heroes, practically worshipped in France.” “They loved the sight of the American flag.” He went on to describe how he was later involved in the liberation of one of the most infamous and pitiful of the Nazi death camps. He wept as he described the prisoners standing in the chow line for their first meal.
It had been three weeks since the terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon. I asked if he had been following the news. He said he got to a television, and like most of the rest of America and the world, he watched in horror for two or three days.
“The President called for a day of prayer. They said to get to a prayer meeting if you can and wear red, white, and blue. I couldn’t find any red, white, and blue so I just wore my uniform,” Harold said.
He showed me a picture taken that day. After fifty years the uniform still fit beautifully. “Harold,” I said, You look sharp.” He did. His uniform was complete with cover and a perfect tie knot.
First hand stories of the faith, patriotism, courage and sacrifice displayed in the Second World War are becoming increasingly rare as the years go by. I was glad to hear a few of Harold’s.
“What did your friends say when you came to dinner in your uniform?” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “They all liked it. The chaplain took my picture and, well, you know, women love a man in uniform.”
(From Stonebridge Newsletter – Number 59)