Local veteran used languages to continue helping after serving in army

Veterans Voices

PEORIA, Ill. — An army veteran drafted in 1965 spent his years in the service working in aviation maintenance.

His roots are here in central Illinois, but speaking four languages helped him gain world knowledge.

This Vietnam veteran recalls his trip overseas as he began his service.

“I had always heard that a troopship was not the most pleasant place to be and it wasn’t,” Johnson said. “It was worse, but it took two weeks to get there and we practically kissed the ground when we managed to get on land.”

Once Johnson returned from the war, he enrolled at Illinois Central College in 1969. There, Johnson was interested in foreign languages.

“French, Spanish, German and English,” he said.

Even though Johnson’s time on active duty was over, he wanted to continue to serve.

“I was in the peace corps in Belize in Central America and I used German as much down there as Spanish,” he said.

He’s seen war. He’s seen peace. And he’s seen America change as a country over the years.

“I think America has lost a lot of respect on all front in the world and the country is in turmoil in the sense [of] we don’t know which was to go right now,” he said.

Johnson has a friend in Militza Nieves-Figueroa. She works as a therapist at a local VA. Serving as his guardian on the Greater Peoria Honor Flight, she says she feels privileged to be in the presence of veterans.

“I am with a lot of people and veterans that made this country free and the way it is right now,” she said. “And I was thinking, ‘oh my god, like, the generation that comes after me they will not be able to be with them.'”

She and johnson both say America, Along with central Illinois, cannot forget the sacrifices that have been given for the freedoms we have today.

“You can’t always believe everything you’re told,” Johnson said. “Examine things for yourself because if you don’t ask questions, you aren’t going to learn.”

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