HUDSONVILLE, Mich. -- An American treasure, WWII veteran Al Johnson transformed his home office in Hudsonville into memories from 73 years ago Thursday: he wore his English beret as he carefully reviewed his documents and pictures.
On March 21, Johnson, now 94, will be in Washington DC alongside surviving members of the Office of Strategic Services to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor in the nation. He served in the OSS from 1943 to 1945 . The OSS is the predecessor of both Special Forces and the CIA.
"Office of Strategic Service: It was a spy, sabotage organization, saboteurs and counter espionage, anything that was subversive we fell in that category," said Johnson with FOX 17 Thursday, a jokester who's sharp.
Initially drafted at 19 and then trained as a surgical nurse, Johnson says he volunteered for the OSS the moment he read their flier.
"I was a strapping 19-year-old," said Johnson, "Felt like I could conquer the world."
"I wanted to get into the fight; I didn’t want to see the results of the fight," he laughed. "When you’re 19, what are you going to walk around being a bedpan jockey your whole life? Forget it. I wanted some action."
Using a golf club, he pinpointed to FOX 17 on a preserved silk map of central France, exactly where he parachuted from only 500 feet off the ground from a bomber model he hung from his office ceiling.
Johnson says he and his OSS team attacked and preserved key infrastructure in several countries, showing a picture from June of 1944 of his 18-person group, which used the code name "Patrick."
After France, with several missions in between, Johnson volunteered to continue to serve in China, where his OSS team went by the name "Blueberry." There he recalled staying put for nearly a month after the war ended, as Japanese forces fought on.
"There’s the Blueberry group," he said pointing to their picture. "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, on Blueberry Hill, when I met you," he sang with a smile.
Sharing his first-hand accounts of the peril he and his fellow OSS members faced, these are all memories he kept to himself for decades until his service became declassified in 1995. That's the year Johnson wrote his unpublished book, "One Small Part."
"It wasn’t for 50 years, so I had to keep my mouth shut, which I thought was bad because I couldn’t even tell my parents," Johnson said, sharing his father served in WWI.
Legends of incredible stories and courage Johnson can finally tell, and share a laugh or two about.