Haunted by a WWII vet named Johnny

Published 9:39 pm Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I have a small confession to make.

Those of you, even family, who know me as best as anyone can, know that my claim to my first “job” was at 10 years old, cutting up chickens, on a Lucille Ball style conveyor belt for $.10 an hour. I confess that it is not the first job I ever had.

Shades of the little kid on the “Superman TV Series” hawking the daily newspaper (The Daily Planet). When I was 8 years old, I did the same thing in Gadsden, in front of The Gadsden Times. Don’t have a clue as to what they paid me. With newspapers going for a nickel, who knows.

I hawked the daily headlines every day for about six hours on the street corner. What my confession is about is that, on this day, there was another person there doing the same thing. I repress the memory because it is painful. I don’t know all of his name except that his name, to me, was Johnny. All I know about Johnny is that he was around 30 years old. He had his legs blown off in Italy in WWII. He had bright blue eyes and he was very kind to me, although, I guess, we were in competition. I sold more papers than he did, every day, because, I think folks thought I was cute. He had what I would call an auto mechanics cart that you slide around on under automobiles.

He had gloves on each hand where his fingers could stick out but the knuckles were covered. With no legs, all his days were spent bringing himself to one place or another via pushing himself along on the cart with his hands. He received NOTHING (that I’m aware of) from the government or V.A. He had a place on Walnut Street next to a garbage bin where he existed overnight every night.

I have no idea what happened to Johnny after 1951, but I do know that periodically his image comes to me when I’m trying to sleep. He served his country faithfully, was destroyed, and abandoned. It hurts my mind and my heart to bear this out. Today, there is so much emphasis on our warriors but so much distancing to those who served in the past. They, like my Johnny, were abandoned and people do not want to “think” about that image. It will remain with me for the rest of my days. I was far too young to understand and only as an “old person” now, do I REALLY understand the depths of that tragedy.

I hope that all those who receive this email tonight will utter a small breath of prayer for Johnny and all like him. They served. Their bodies were destroyed, yet they never marched or complained, they simply did what they could with the remainder of their lives.

God Bless Johnny and all who went before and after.


Ron Hei