Local veteran, writer Kay Johnson looks back on life, military career
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
“I Am a Veteran.
“When I became a member of the Armed Forces and swore my allegiance, I promised to protect and defend this Nation, both within and without. And, to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America; to protect the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; as well as the right to bear arms.
“I served in the Spanish American and Revolutionary Wars; and as a patriot, I was there when they dumped the tea into the Boston Harbor so that this Nation could grow and prosper independently; setting its own standards and making its own laws. I survived the war to end all wars and when on November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed, I hoped that no one again would have to fight the fight to end all fights.
“Yet that was not meant to be, and on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt declared that “this is a day that shall live in infamy,” I shouldered the responsibility to fight for the cause of freedom so that the devastation and bloodshed I was to witness on the Pacific atolls or in the streets of London and Berlin, would never touch our shores.
“I was there when they raised the flag on Iwo Jima. I flew the planes, navigated the ships, and led the troops into battle and I was aboard the USS Missouri when the Japanese surrendered. And when it was over, I watched the sun rise as we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge and I was once again home.
“Korea, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Kosovo, Afghanistan. Some of these were names we never heard of until we were forced to fight to stem the flow of Communism and oppression. Today the fight continues and we must give our support to the brave and gallant men and women who lay their lives on the line to defend and protect us and uphold the ideals of that paper written so many years ago.”
That was piece was written by Kathryn “Kay” Johnson, of Tomahawk. Kay and her late husband, Fred Johnson, both served in the military. Fred, a Merrill native, was also a founding member of the Wisconsin Bear Hunters’ Association, which was started in 1966. He worked with the Department of Natural Resources for 30 years.
Kay’s mother passed away just before Kay’s second birthday. Kay’s father remarried, and when she was 12, she and her family moved to California. There, her passion for reading and writing blossomed, and she enjoyed both her journalism classes in school and writing stories.
Kay enlisted in the military after high school and went to boot camp and medical course school in Bainbridge, Maryland. From there, she was transferred to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where she met Fred.
Kay and Fred got married and eventually ended up in the Tomahawk area, where they raised their daughter and three sons. Kay worked at Golden Age Nursing Home in Tomahawk for 30 years, where she cared for many veterans. At one time, she notes, the only veterans staying the nursing home were three women.
She speaks glowingly of her family, adding that Fred was a “great father” who was always there for her, her children and anyone who needed a helping hand.
To this day, both in her writing and when she speaks, Kay’s respect for the military is clear.
“I was proud to serve,” Kay says, adding that she doesn’t need any glory. “But I did it with my heart. And I met a lot of wonderful people from all over the United States. I wish more women would (enlist). You can grow a lot, in many ways, by just being in the military. I think, if you take it seriously enough, you have a greater appreciation for the life and the freedom that we have, and that we live, and that we can look forward to knowing no one is ever going to take this away from us.”