(Portage, IN) - Well over 100 people at the Portage Memorial Day ceremony applauded when a veteran of World War II was introduced on the Founders Square stage. Robert O. Johnson, 98, stood up from his chair and waved to the crowd.
After the ceremony, Johnson said he was part of the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest attack fought by the United States during World War II. The battle marked the beginning of the end of the war because of the heavy losses also sustained by Germany which never recovered.
Johnson said he was not on the front lines but was in the thick of battle doing things like working the telephones and cooking at headquarters set up at different locations like France during the war. He also recalled his ship pulling up anchor from one battle to the other and each time after docking wading with the soldiers to the shoreline.
Momentarily, Johnson broke down while recalling the casualties then spoke about returning home after the war and leaving what little he had on the ship in New Jersey. "I bid everything good bye right there,” he said. The brass cross he received on a card after stepping off the boat is now in the hands of his great grandson , Sgt. Andrew Jones, who just retired from the Army. Johnson resided in Lake Station for more than 60-years before relocating to Portage about seven-years ago.
The keynote speaker was U.S. Congressman Frank Mrvan of Hammond. His congressional district includes Michigan City. Mrvan said Memorial Day is a time when residents despite their differences unite as Americans to remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy. He said it’s also a time to remember the efforts of all veterans, including those instilling things like patriotism and service to the country in youth.
“Our nation has faced challenging times. A pandemic. Economic uncertainty. Social unrest. But, what unites us every single day is that we’re Americans and I hope today that we continue to decide that what unites us in the diversification of our nation makes us stronger as a democracy,” he said. Mrvan also said the nation can use these tumultuous times to continue being viewed by other nations as “the beacon of freedom.”
State Representative Chuck Moseley of Portage said people should always remember everything from the food on their tables to the roofs over their head resulted from the sacrifices of veterans since the beginning of the nation. He also delivered a famous quote from a long unknown source. “Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it,” Moseley said.