In 1941, one of the greatest tragedies in American history happened at Pearl Harbor, in the Territory of Hawaii, when Japanese airplanes launched a surprise attack on the Navy base on a quiet Sunday morning. Millions were affected by this attack, many of them just teenagers. One of these young men was Ed Johann.
Fascinated by the idea of the adventurous military life, Ed abandoned high school and enlisted when he was just 17 years old. He was sent to Hawaii, where on December 7, 1941, he found himself manning a thirty-foot motor launch that transported men and supplies between the ships in Pearl Harbor and shore.
On that fateful Sunday morning in 1941, many men were waiting for the launch to give them a lift from one ship to another or to land, so they could visit friends and enjoy a day off. As Johann was shuttling men to and from their ships, he and his two colleagues heard the sound of airplanes, but couldn’t see any. Surprised about the unusual timing of what they assumed to be a drill on a Sunday, they looked around to discover airplanes approaching the lagoon, but the sun made them impossible to identify until it was too late.
Before anyone knew what was happening, there was chaos all around. Enemy aircraft flew overhead, dropping torpedoes and bombs on the ships in the harbor. Ed Johann managed to get to the stricken battleships to pick up injured men and bring them to the hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5). Soon, not only injured men were being transported, but also crewmen forced to abandon their sinking vessels.
As ships went down and the lagoon filled with oil and thick fumes, more and more men had to be pulled out of the water, many of them covered in burns. Ed Johann brought countless men to safety, and miraculously neither he nor his boat were hit in the assault, although he’s sure the Japanese were firing on them.
In these moments of danger, many men were praying and making vows for the chance of survival. Ed Johann resolved to dedicate his life to serving others should he make it through this hell. He did survive and more than fulfilled his promise. After finishing his military service of more than four years, he spent another 27 years working for the fire department in Portland, Oregon. He also took part in mountain rescues, saving people at great risk to his own life.
Besides his dedication to helping others in their moments of greatest danger, Ed Johann is a lover of art, literature, and music. He wrote four books, one of them a volume of poetry dedicated to Marion, his wife of 61 years. Together they raised three children, built a cottage, and helped countless people.
It’s hard to say how many lives Ed Johann saved. A commendation medal of valor and many letters of thanks document a just few of his deeds.
In 2015, Ed Johann and six other veterans traveled to Japan on a peaceful mission: to return 70 inscribed Japanese flags, taken from fallen Japanese soldiers and airmen over 70 years ago.
On July 11, 2018, Ed Johann celebrates his 95th birthday. Even now, he continues to serve by sharing his experiences with younger generations. Happy birthday, Mr. Johann. May your example inspire many others to live a life of service.