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Marine's wish granted; Hudson graduate to be buried in new uniform

By EDD PRITCHARD GateHouse Ohio Media Published: May 18, 2017 2:21 PM
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JACKSON TOWNSHIP - Bill Johnson will don a Marine service uniform and head for Washington on Saturday.

"There's no such thing as an ex-Marine, that's what he's always told me," said Emily Lengyel, hospice coordinator of volunteers at Harbor Light Hospice.

Johnson, now 92, joined the Marines after graduating from Hudson High School. He served for three years during World War II, participating in major campaigns at Saipan and Okinawa, then as part of the occupation force at Nagasaki, Japan.

Married and a father, Johnson was in the reserve and was called back to service when the Korean War started. He was part of a United Nations force that Chinese troops encircled in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

After two wars, Johnson returned to Northeast Ohio.

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He raised a family, worked some different jobs, then started a business and served as president of the Jackson-Belden Chamber of Commerce.

His second wife, Louise -- a one-time Marine sergeant and former writer for The Repository -- died in 2007. Bill Johnson has managed through health issues. Illness and age are catching up.

The staff at Harbor Light knew of Johnson's service and submitted him as a candidate for the Honor Flight Cleveland program that takes World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour military memorials. Volunteers with Honor Flight heard Johnson's story and the project "snowballed," said Joe Benedict, president of Honor Flight Cleveland.

Flying to Washington would be special, however, Johnson -- who forever will be a Marine -- had an additional wish: to be buried in a Marine uniform. After so many years, he no longer had his.

Honor Flight Cleveland members tackled the project, even though it was something they never before had tried, Benedict said.

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They secured a uniform for Johnson with the help of Star-N-Stripes Co., a Barberton business that alters uniform for active service members and veterans. The business also finds vintage uniforms, medals, ribbons and military memorabilia. Using Johnson's discharge papers, the company included the proper ribbons and medals with the uniform.

On the afternoon of May 17, during a program at The Landing of Canton, where Johnson lives, Honor Flight officials and Marine Cpl. Christian Locke -- his family owns Stars-N-Stripes -- presented the uniform.

Johnson, his voice not much more than a whisper, described the gift and moment as overwhelming.

"I never expected any of this," he said after the presentation.

He looks forward to Saturday's trip.

While others will be wearing Honor Flight T-shirts, Johnson will be in the green service uniform, staff sergeant bars on the upper arm. A smile crossed Johnson face as he thought about the trip and recalled his service all those years ago.


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