‘Vietnam never left him’: Remembering A Quiet Hero
Glen LeRoy Johnson served during the Vietnam War. It wasn’t known then, but he would have unseen wounds when he returned.
Glen Johnson was born July 3, 1949, in Colfax, Wisconsin. He was the 8th of 9 children. His mother, Alice, took a couple of months to decide on the name “Glen” for him, but by then his siblings had already dubbed him “Pete.” From then on, everyone knew him as Pete.
“Glen left for basic training June 14,1968. We graduated from high school one week, were married the next week on June 1st,” his wife Sally recalls. This year would have been their 48th wedding anniversary. In April 1968, Glen’s father passed away.”When he enlisted, the recruiter promised him they would never send him to Vietnam. “That didn’t work out,” she said.
Glen reported to boot camp a few weeks after getting married. He would later serve with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division (HHB 7/11 FA) in the Tay Ninh area of Vietnam from December of 1968 to December of 1969.
Like many other Vietnam veterans, Glen’s welcome back to the states was nothing short of hostile and apathetic.
When Glen was met at the airport in California, he was handed jeans and a T-shirt and told to change. Sally remembers the story of when he stepped onto American soil. “I never knew why he was not in uniform,” Sally mentioned. “At the time, it only mattered to her that he had returned.” He told her that on the flight right before him, two soldiers were returning and were beaten by protesters. Their language was brazen and unfiltered. These men were called “baby killers.” Returning to American soil should have been a safe place, but in reality, their lives were taken by people whose freedom they had been fighting for.
Stepping off the plane would only be the beginning of a long struggle with physical and mental scars of war.
Only 18 years old when Glen left for Vietnam, his return made it hard for Sally to explain.
“He was different. Every night from the time he returned, he had night terrors at 2:00 AM.” Glen would wake up, scream and yell to, “Look Out!”and “Get Down!” Then, he would walk the hallway of the family house, which he believed was a perimeter patrol. It was hard to know how to go out in public. Glen couldn’t face people. It took a toll on the family. “Our children grew up not having their dad at all the games and events for school that most kids did,” Sally mustered.
In 2005, Glen was diagnosed with diabetes. His doctor recommended he contact the Department of Veterans Affairs, as it was likely a result of exposure to Agent Orange. The VA had no record that showed Glen was in Vietnam, as all his records were burned. In 2006, Glen’s PTSD got really bad.
Glen felt lost. He “was very hurt that [this] was all his service meant to the country, and refused to go forward,” his wife admitted.
Later in his life, the physical effects of the Agent Orange exposure during his service in Vietnam began to appear. Along with the depression and anxiety from PTSD, he developed diabetes and heart disease. He would succumb to these ailments in 2011.
Glen died in a car accident in August of that year, brought on by a heart attack. He was 62 years old.
Remembering him in 2016, she says,”Glen left Vietnam decades ago. But Vietnam never left him.”
Glen found it difficult to keep in contact with those he served with, including one named Terry E. Schloesser. After he returned from his deployment, Glen never spoke to him again or any of the men in his unit, even after his sister-in-law found a roster of the men. Sally attributes his inaction to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which worked in “mysterious ways.” Aside from being away from the soldiers he knew as brothers, Glen had trouble burying the memories.
However, a simple search helped Glen’s history in service come full circle.
“A month after my husband was gone, my grandson went online, and typed in Terry’s name,” Sally said. The obituary that came up for Terry said he passed away one month to the day after Glen.” He too, succumbed to wounds attributed to his service in Vietnam. Shortly after, Sally’s daughter sent Terry’s family a card explaining the connection between Terry and Glen. Terry’s wife, Margaret, sent a card back with her phone number. The two wives have been in contact ever since.
Sally will meet Margaret for the first time at VVMF’s In Memory ceremony in Washington, D.C. The In Memory ceremony is held every year and honors those who later died as a result of their service, but are not eligible for inscription on The Wall under Department of Defense guidelines. 312 veterans will be recognized in 2016; they passed away from illnesses attributed to exposure to Agent Orange, such as cancer, heart attack, and suicide by PTSD.
Sally and Margaret are two women brought together by service more than 40 years prior. They will continue to search for solace and peace moving forward.
“As I am sure Glen and Terry drew strength from each other while in Vietnam, Margie is the one who I know truly understands the loss and how we feel,” she added. All Glen wanted was to grow old with his wife. This In Memory Day, she will celebrate another anniversary without him, but take the time to honor the sacrifices he wore so bravely.
Glen was a gentle, kind man. He spent most of his life trying to make up for his role in Vietnam. Glen was not only a veteran, but a husband, father, brother, son, and friend. He was an excavator, volunteer firefighter, and EMT. “Seven days a week he would be at work as the sun rose and not return until after it had set.” Though he kept the fact well hidden from his family, this great dedication to work served as a way for him to cope with the post traumatic stress disorder that would affect him throughout his life.
It was clear to those closest to Glen that he spent his life giving – to his family, his community, and his country. He made the lives of those around him a little better. He poured himself into his works and caring for his family.”
“I want very much for people to know how proud of him I am,” Sally confesses. She has devoted herself to honor his memory – from speaking to veterans’ groups and making quilts of valor to give to Vietnam veterans. This year, she brought Glen’s memory to Washington, D.C. to In Memory Weekend.
He will never be forgotten.
Glen is remembered by his wife, Sally. Together they had five children: Michelle (born while Glen was in Vietnam), Tracey, Melissa, Eric, and Scott. He was a dedicated and doting grandfather to five grandchildren: Brandon, Bryce, Bailey, Kaitlyn, and Alex.