James Leonard Johnson has never looked for any recognition for his service in the U.S. Army during World War II. Saturday afternoon, Leonard Johnson was told some veterans were invited to a program at the South Central Kentucky Cultural Center, and he was asked to don his old uniform and attend. Johnson did not realize the program would actually be a ceremony to award him a Bronze Star for actions he took in 1944.
Johnson, a Barren County native who is now 90 years old, was drafted into the Army in about 1941, he said, around age 20. After basic training, he started his overseas service in Guadalcanal. From there, Johnson island hopped through the Solomon and Philippine Islands. Johnson earned his Bronze Star on the island of Bougainville, on Jan. 2, 1944.
“Sergeant Johnson contributed greatly to the 182d Infantry Regiment’s mission to secure and hold the beachhead on the island of Bougainville in the Northern Solomon Islands, a key strategic point in the Southwestern Pacific Theater,” the official Army citation reads. “In spite of fierce opposition from the Japanese, the Americal Division succeeded in capturing this island, thereby serving as a stepping stone to liberate the Philippine Islands. Sergeant Johnson’s exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat was in keeping with the finest traditions of military service and reflects great credit upon himself, the 182d Infantry Regiment and the Army of the United States.”
The Johnson family started researching Leonard Johnson’s military history after hearing stories from his wife, Bernadene Johnson. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Ben Gipe, Leonard Johnson’s ex-son-in-law, wondered if Johnson had received all the recognitions he had earned during his time in the war. They discovered the history behind Bougainville that was worthy of a Bronze Star, and pursued the paperwork necessary to obtain the medal. It was “the right thing to do,” Gipe said, and he said wonders how many other World War II veterans did not receive medals they earned.
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