Ray Johnson has lived at the Kansas Veterans Home since February 2011 (Alyssa Richardson/Collegian photographer)

What do you think of when you hear the words World War II? Many people probably think of Adolf Hitler and the battle to free Europe from his grasp. But the other theatre of war the United States was involved in during that time was the Battle for the Pacific against Japan. The Pacific War started after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, when the United States declared war on Japan.

Ray Johnson, Petty Officer 2nd Class, is a World War II veteran. Johnson was stationed on Attu Island, Alaska while serving in the Naval Air Force from 1942 to 1945. He enlisted because of his desire to serve his country. Johnson said, “We all had our reasons why we wanted to join, while others were drafted and had no choice. As far as experience I wouldn’t want to miss it again but I wouldn’t want to try it again either. One time was enough.” His brother also served in the military, as a Marine on the front lines of Pearl Harbor.

Johnson was born July 5, 1922 in Concordia. Before enlisting, Johnson worked for Boeing Company as a machinist. Both of his parents were employed by Boeing, so he had an extensive background with aircraft before going into the Air Force. “I love to fly. I flew all the time in the bomber planes. As a flight engineer I did a lot of airplane repairing and even built some experimental models,” Johnson said.

One of his most memorable experiences was during a 700-mile reconnaissance and bombing mission from Alaska to the Northern islands of Japan. While dumping 500-pound bombs, a hurricane diverted their plane directly into Siberia, Russia.

The hurricane caused them to lose all control of the now frozen aircraft tossing them deeper into Siberia. As quickly as it came though, the storm released the still airborne plane, and the sunshine came out, de-icing the plane. The damage from the storm caused them to lose both of the generators and the electric circuit—radio, radar, and top turret gun included.

While flying high above Russia, the pilots found their exact location and navigated back to base in Attu. Low on gasoline, the crew aboard the plane dumped all unnecessary objects to extend the gasoline supply. After crossing the Bering Strait, the plane ran into another storm causing them to fly low over the ocean. Once they broke out of the storm, the crew found themselves five feet off their own runway, making a safe landing.

Johnson received Navy Wings with one star for a reconnaissance and bombing mission. “We were supposed to take film pictures with a camera in the wing of the plane and our crew was doing patrol. If we found ships we would identify them, shoot them or do whatever we had to do,” Johnson said.

After being discharged in 1945, Johnson held a number of jobs. He went back to working for Boeing and Cessna, doing experimental aircraft building. At one time he owned his own mechanic shop. He was also an inventor, and holds 12 patents. One of his inventions included a hammer that held the nails magnetically. He manufactured and sold thousands of these hammers over 10 years.

Five years after being discharged Johnson headed down a dark path. “All the things that happen during the service you still carry it with you when you went home. So I got to drinking and smoking pretty bad and couldn’t seem to quit either one of them.”

But on Feb. 4, 1951, Johnson went to a church in Oakland, Calif. to make things right with God. “I accepted Christ, and the Lord changed my whole life. After I took Christ in my heart, I didn’t have a drink or smoke since 1951.”

After becoming a Christian, Johnson dedicated his life to the New Tribes Mission and spent 17 years in Liberia, West Africa as a minister and mechanic. One of his favorite memories from his time in Africa was building a car for a crippled boy named Solomon Carter James. Johnson built the car out of any parts he could find, and modified it so James could use his hands to operate the car because he had no use of his legs.

On Sept. 28, 1963, James said, “Thank you everyone in America for sending Uncle Ray here to help us.” During his five trips to Africa, Johnson made a difference in many of the natives’ lives “I think the best part of my life was the time I spent doing mission work in Africa,” Johnson said.

Johnson resides at the Kansas Veterans Home located in Winfield. He has been there since last February. Next July this highly decorated veteran will turn 90 years old.

Alyssa Richardson is a freshman majoring in communication. You may e-mail her at alyssa.richardson@sckans.edu.