Johnson pleased veterans honored
by Rory Doyle
Nov 11, 2012 | 2484 views | 0 0 comments | 36 36 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Hermon Johnson (right), 83, proudly stands with Preston Holmes, 98, aside the Army tank stationed outside the Mound Bayou American Legion Post 220. Both veterans are active members of the post and take great pride in remembering American service members on Veterans Day.
Hermon Johnson (right), 83, proudly stands with Preston Holmes, 98, aside the Army tank stationed outside the Mound Bayou American Legion Post 220. Both veterans are active members of the post and take great pride in remembering American service members on Veterans Day.
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All across the country today, citizens will pay tribute to our nation's military service heroes, past and present, who have helped maintain the freedom that makes America so great.

Veterans Day, a U.S. federal holiday, celebrates the commitment service members have made to protect our home soil.

Mound Bayou resident and U.S. Army veteran Hermon Johnson, 83, takes great pride in recognizing the people who make the holiday significant.

"It's very important to acknowledge the struggle that veterans have gone through to keep us free," said Johnson. "They sacrifice their lives to fight for freedom — so that everyone else can enjoy life."

And Johnson too, should be recognized for his part in the sacrifice.

He was drafted in 1951 during the Korean conflict and began his basic training at Ft. Still in Oklahoma.

Johnson served in various capacities for two years, including extensive training in the Army Airborne School as a paratrooper.

While he never went to Korea, Johnson worked hard and remained prepped should his name have been called.

"I wanted the experience overseas, but I also preferred jumping out of planes rather than jumping out of the way of bullets.

"I heard that things in Korea were worse than what we went through in training, and if that's the case, I'm not so sure I would have wanted to go through that struggle."

Johnson was discharged in 1953, but his dedication went underappreciated in a time of racial turmoil in the American South.

"Me and my friend were discharged on the same day," said Johnson. "We were all dressed up in our uniforms, looking nice heading home on the bus.

"Our bus stopped in Memphis and I'll never forget what the man in the station said to me. He said, '…, don't you see that water is for white people only?'"

While the painful past is never forgotten, Johnson said he's uplifted to see how far the country has come.

"There was a time when I could not help but think black soldiers were not accepted as equals, even though we fought and sacrificed our lives in the same way," he said. "What's important now is that it's gotten a lot better."

And Johnson played an active role in fighting for improvements after his return to Mound Bayou following his service.

He and his wife Alfreta, who were married for 54 years before she passed away in 2006, were both close to Dr. T. R. M. Howard, Mound Bayou's civil rights leader.

Howard also served a fraternal organization leader, entrepreneur and surgeon – a true trailblazer in the Mississippi Delta.

Howard is remembered for mentoring such activists as Medgar Evers, Charles Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Amzie Moore, Aaron Henry and Jesse Jackson — and Johnson was often by his side as one of his main supporters.

"I was not always the voice you heard, but it was pretty neat when Dr. Howard would ask for my advice," said Johnson.

Johnson continued to collaborate with other local leaders as they sought equality for African Americans throughout the Delta.

He was instrumental in convincing the federal government in 1967 to build the nation's first rural community health center, the Delta Health Center, in Mound Bayou.

Johnson would go on to work at the center for 20 years, where he filled many different roles.

"One of the first things I did was serve as an economic development specialist. I would help lower-income families get access to health care, loans, houses and property."

After all the changes Johnson has helped orchestrate, this Veterans Day he will proudly wear his American Legion Post 220 cap as he enters the Bethel AME Church in town.

The church will honor members of the post, an organization Johnson and other African Americans were banned from when they returned home in the '50s.

Mississippi and the South have come a long way, and the military bravery of Johnson and his peers will not be forgotten.

"It's special to me knowing that this day is set aside to pay respect to all people who were willing to sacrifice their lives," said Johnson. "Just think of what life could be like if we didn't fight for freedom."