Each year at the 4th of July parade in Hobart, Indiana families flock together to celebrate our freedom. This year, the parade will be led by Harold Johnson, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who currently resides in Hobart.
Johnson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1922. At the age of three his family moved to Gary, Indiana. His father worked at United States Steel, where Johnson would later work, though he didn’t enjoy it. Johnson lived during the depression in the 1930s. During this time, he, his brother, and his father would walk to the field where the steel mill dumped the waste products from coal, collect it, and use it to burn in their furnace at home.
“During the depression my dad got one day a week to work in the mill,” Johnson said. “It was United States Steel even back then, and they dumped coal in the field and we’d bring it home to burn in our furnace.”
Johnson has lived through many interesting times in our history, including the draft during World War II. This draft required all men of a certain age to register. A national lottery was used to select men to serve.
In December of 1942, Johnson was drafted into the army where he volunteered to be trained as a paratrooper. Johnson completed his basic training with the 82nd airborne at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He was then sent to Fort Benning in Georgia for jump school.
“At jump school they teach you how to pack a parachute. You pack your first chute and then you jump,” Johnson said. “Four days in a row you jump and if you want to quit you can, but after the fifth jump you’re a paratrooper.”
He made his fifth jump and continued on to the battlefields in Italy, France, Holland, and Germany. He was a part of many notable battles, including Battle of the Bulge, which was the last major German offensive campaign.
Johnson did many jumps during his service, but noted the time he jumped from an airplane with nine other soldiers, while holding onto pieces of artillery.
“We jumped and dropped a 75 mm Howitzer in boxes and put it together on the ground. Then we pulled it two miles to fire it,” Johnson explained.
He has received many medals for his service, notably, two Purple Hearts.
Johnson earned one of his Purple Hearts in Italy, when he dug himself into a foxhole and an artillery shell was dropped near him. The blast buried him, but other soldiers were able to dig him out. Once out, he found he had fractured his ribs and needed medical attention.
“I had to walk 10 miles to a tent hospital. They taped me all up. When they thought I was healed the nurse asked if she should peel the tape off easy,” Johnson said. “Then I walked 10 miles back.”
In 1944 Johnson was discharged from the army and returned to Gary. His first stop was the dime store where he purchased a malted milk from the fountain.
“I returned three days in a row and got another,” Johnson said.
He soon met a waitress named Barbara and offered to drive her home rather than her needing to ride the streetcar. They married four months later and eventually built the house in Hobart that he still lives in. His memories of Barbara and the war are clear, something which he attributes to his easy-going nature and lack of vices.
“I don’t worry about anything. Just one day at a time,” Johnson said. “I never drink alcohol and have never smoked a cigarette, either.”
Currently, Johnson stays active by bowling, playing cards, and doing as much as he can for himself. He still cuts his own grass and is looking forward to being a part of the Hobart 4th of July Parade. His family has attended the parade for over 20 years, but this year he will be leading the parade and acting as Grand Marshall.
Johnson doesn't let much stop him at 95. He still owns a large amount of World War II memorabilia, including parachutes and maps from his time in the service. His ambitious spirit is apparent in everything he does and the plans he continues to make. Johnson wants to jump from an airplane one more time in his life, just to relive the experience.
“I haven’t jumped since the war, there was no reason to, but now I just want to do it. It’s something different,” Johnson said.