Memorial Day ceremony at 45th Infantry
Burton Johnson sat in the front row during the Memorial Day ceremony at the 45th Infantry Division Museum on Monday morning, his World War II veteran baseball cap shielding him from the sun already beating down.
Johnson, 97, served in the U.S. Army.
Johnson and his wife, Louise, have spent every Memorial Day of the past two decades honoring fallen soldiers and recalling his service.
Hundreds sat and stood alongside him during the brief ceremony. Among the attendees were service members who fought in the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and the War on Terrorism.
Brigadier General Steve D. Elliott, the Assistant Adjutant General of the Oklahoma Army National Guard, was the keynote speaker.
"My service was in a desolate region of Afghanistan. I had a bunk. I had at least one hot meal a day. But when I think about those veterans whose ties to their families were only through a letter that came sporadically through the mail, when I read the accounts of storming the beaches at Normandy, the tragedy of the death marches at Bataan, or the despair when this nation was attacked at Pearl Harbor, my service pales by comparison," Elliott said.
Elliott also honored veterans of World War I who have all since passed, and Gold Star families who have lost a family member in combat.
"They still walk among us through their moms, their dads, their spouses and their children," Elliott said.
"There will most likely be a soldier that passes today, in some faraway land, without the benefit of his family at his bedside, or even a distant relative to connect with at his time of passing," he said.
Johnson supervised more than 15,000 Japanese prisoners of war in Finschhafen, New Guinea, during World War II, he said.
"I had to make sure that they were fed, and that they had something to eat, but other than that, they had to care for themselves," Johnson said.
He recounted taking his motorcycle on patrol to check on the soldiers, making sure that they were treated properly and returned to Japan.
After the war, Johnson returned to Oklahoma City, where he was an attorney with a longstanding practice downtown.
"Thank goodness the war ended when it did, because I was then a major. I could give my rank back and anything else just to be home." he said.