Local WWII veteran looks back on Pearl Harbor

Now 77 years later, a local veteran is looking back on how Pearl Harbor changed his life.

Lester Johnson was just a high school student at Westby during Pearl Harbor, but he still remembers the attack vividly.

“It was a cold day in December. I think I heard about it when we got home. We had a battery powered radio,” Johnson said.

He had no idea that event 4,000 miles away would change the rest of his life.

“It was traumatic. Here’s these bombers coming in, surprised everybody,” Johnson said.

War was declared and Lester asked his parents if he could go fight.

“My parents didn’t want me to go. They said, ‘wait until you’re 18,'” Johnson said.

Three years later he joined the military.

“I was 18 in 1945 so a couple days out of high school I’m now in the Army Air Force in Sheppard, Texas,” Johnson said.

During his last week of basic training the war came to an end.

“The biggest thing is the day the war ended in basic training. I’ll never forget that. The war is over and people are honking their horns and driving their cars. The gas rationing is done. Bingo, things change,” Johnson said.

And even though the war was over, Johnson’s service was just beginning.

“I ran an air-to-ground radio and a teletype machine at Fukuoka air base on the island of Kyushu,” Johnson said.

Johnson was later recognized for his contribution to the Army Air force.

“Good conduct, American campaign, WWII victory and the Army of Occupation medals,” Johnson said.

He said joining the military was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

“It changes your outlook on life, you learn respectability and that type of thing. You learn discipline and respectability,” Johnson said.

Looking back, Johnson says the day World War II ended is one of the greatest moments of his life.

He’s now very active with the Freedom Honor Flight– a La Crosse-based organization that flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to see war memorials- and hopes every veteran will get the chance to fly to make the trip.

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