‘Greatest generation’ loses one of its best from Greenville

By Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 11:09 am on Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ed Johnson received the Knight of the Legion Honor medal in a 2011 ceremony at the Fighting Falcon Military Museum. — File photo

GREENVILLE — A Greenville resident who not only served his local community, but his country in World War II, has died after a brief illness.

Edward Johnson, 93, of Greenville, was a World War II hero and kind heart to many in the Greenville area.

“He was a gentle soul and a peace maker,” said the Rev. Jerry Jones of First Congregational Church, where Johnson was a longtime member.

Born in 1919 in Greenville and growing up south of Sidney, Johnson graduated from Greenville Union High School with the class of 1938.

Jones said Johnson is the great-great-grandson of early Danish settlers in Greenville and noted Johnson’s great-grandfather survived two Danish wars before dying in the Civil War.

Ed Johnson

But the military blood did not stop there. Johnson was called into the military service at the young age of 22, serving in the First Division, “The Big Red One.”

During his service in the European Theater of Operation, Johnson earned the Silver Battle Star, Bronze Battle Star, Distinguished Unit Badge with two Bronze Oak leaf clusters, Silver Star attachment and the Arrowhead, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, American Defense Ribbon and Presidential Unit Citations, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, Hurtgen Forest, Hamich, Germany.

Recently, Johnson was awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor, which is the highest honor bestowed by France for those who have achieved remarkable deeds. The honor was given for to him for courage and bravery.

“If I am correct, (the Knight of the Legion of Honor) is the same as receiving our Silver Star,” said Bill Delp of the Fighting Falcon Military Museum in Greenville.

While in the military, Johnson served in Morocco, French Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Normandy, Northern France and Rhineland campaigns.

It was while serving in the military he met his future wife, then Mae Honegger, who is also a World War II veteran who served with the medics in the Women’s Army Corps.

“He was a patient in my ward,” Mae Johnson said. “I told my girlfriend I was going to get him better, take him home with me and marry him. He ended up taking me home with him.”

Mae Johnson said she and her husband were just eight days shy of celebrating their 67th wedding anniversary when he died.

“He was a kind and gentle person,” Mae Johnson said. “He was a perfect gentleman.”

Jones, who knew Johnson for 17 years, said Johnson lived a full life and even helped build his home at the age of 80. One of Johnson’s favorite pastimes was reading.

“He was very quiet and one of the best-read people I know,” said Jones, noting Johnson would read two or three books a week and kept a log of every book he read.

“I am going to miss him a lot,” Jones said. “He was part of the greatest generation.”

Ron Blanding described his friend Johnson as a quiet man, yet the smartest person in the room because he absorbed everything everyone would say.

“He was a real fine gentleman and WWII hero,” Blanding said. “I’m going to miss him.”

Johnson graduated from Ferris State University and the University of Michigan, with degrees in education. He worked with school administration in Maple City Glen Lake, Roscommon and Bellaire. He was a life member of the Michigan Education Association and the National Education Association, Disabled American Veterans, Flat River Museum and Fighting Falcon Military Museum.

He enjoyed Army reunions, being grand marshal in the Danish Festival, the coffee gang at Margo’s Restaurant and serving on the Downtown Development Authority.

Memorial services for Johnson will be 11 a.m. Thursday at First Congregational Church in Greenville with Jones officiating.

Visitation will be one hour prior to the service.

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