By Kelly Alexander
Jim Johnson is a well known and well loved member of the Sullivan community. He was known as being very civic minded, helping kids and serving the community as a volunteer firefighter. His wife Anna says, “There wasn’t anything Jim wouldn’t do for you.” Jim and Anna were married in 1959 and have a son James and daughter Jo Ann. A carefully crafted scrapbook which Anna made for her husband impressively captures and displays the time he spent in the military on its pages and clearly reflects the love and pride she feels for him.
Johnson joined the Sullivan Fire Department in 1959, working his way up through the ranks, eventually becoming Chief. As fire Chief, Jim supported the formation of a Junior Fire Department Program, having influenced many young men in the Sullivan area, including his son James, to choose a career in Fire Service. Later on, he served on the Board of Directors. During the 16 years he served on the board, the department continued to grow and acquire additional trucks and equipment. In April 2012, the Fire District honored Johnson by dedicating Pumper 854 to him for his fifty-plus years of service.
In June of this year, Johnson passed away at the age of 84 and Pumper 854 was included in his funeral procession. The fire department members served as Honor Guard and also as pallbearers at the funeral service held for him on June 15. On Sat. Oct. 29, a military service was presented at his grave site in Odd Fellows Cemetery, which also included the dedication of a military foot stone and the presentation of colors. His daughter Jo Ann spoke of her father to those attending the ceremony and balloons were released in his honor.
Johnson was born in Waldron, AR, on Aug. 30, 1931, son of William Alex Johnson, known to all as Alex, and Mary Willie Johnson nee Fisk. His family later settled in Sullivan, where he grew up and graduated from Sullivan High School in 1950.
On April 26, 1951, he enlisted with United States Air Force. He was sent to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, TX for three months of basic training. After graduating from basic training, as a Private First Class, he and 40-50 other airmen were sent to Cookeville, TN, where they lived on campus at Tennessee Polytechnic Institute for approximately three months, taking classes in commercial transportation. After finishing classes there, he was sent to Lawson Air Force Base in Fort Benning, GA, for another two months of training in shooting guns and he tested to drive all vehicles, starting with a jeep. Johnson passed all the tests and could drive all the vehicles. He was the only one that passed the test to drive a tractor-trailer truck.
Around the end of December 1951, his squadron left Fort Benning and went by train to Norfolk, VA, where they boarded the USS WG Hahn, going to Bremerhaven, Germany. The ship carried several thousand men, both Army and Air Force. The voyage took one to two weeks and at times, the waves on the ocean were 40 to 50 feet high. The water spray would come up over the ship. Men stayed in bunk rooms down below and many of them got seasick as they stood to eat.
After arriving in Germany, the squadron was sent on a two-day journey to Toul, France and stayed until construction was completed on a new Air Force Base at Toul-Rosieres Air Force Base in Nancy, France.
While serving in France, his duties were to drive a tractor-trailer truck and pick up food and supplies. He also drove a Jeep full-time to take enlisted Air Force men, officers and pilots to and from the train station in Metz, Port-a-Mousson, Toul and Nancy, France. He had also been assigned to chauffeur the Colonel and drove him around in a blue Chevrolet staff car.
After serving 40 months in France, Johnson had his four years in and was flown home from Wiesbaden, Germany, stopping for fuel in Gander, Newfoundland then onto Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts. From there, he caught a train to New York City then onto Camp Kilmer, NJ, where he was honorably discharged in April of 1955, earning National Defense and Good Conduct medals.
Afterwards, Johnson bought a car and drove back to Sullivan where he made a home for his family and his mark in the world.