WORLD WAR II VET'S "ONLY SKILL" SAVING PEOPLE
No one knows for certain how many Pearl Harbor survivors are living today.
However, Newberg boasts at least one in 99-year-old Newberg Marquis resident Ed Johann.
Johann was just 17 when, six months into his Navy career, the site of his new home transformed into a “harbor of hell.”
It started as a slow Sunday. Many servicemen planned to visit family and friends or purchase items unavailable to them at sea.
Johann, who worked on a motor launch boat that ferried sailors to and from their destinations, had been waiting for peers to board.
They were confused when he and the other crew members heard planes in the distance.
“Some guys thought it was a drill and said, ‘Why are they drilling on a Sunday?’” Johann said. “Then we saw the big red circles on them (the planes), and we said, ‘Hey, those are the Japanese!’”
That’s when the explosions started.
“We knew then it was no drill,” Johann said, chuckling. “No practice. This is the real thing. Places, everyone.”
Without waiting for orders, Johann and crew members changed course toward the battleships, already ablaze, as explosion after explosion rained down.
“Wounded guys were laying around on the deck, and we’d pick them up and drag them to our boat to the hospital ship (USS Solace),” Johann said. “That’s what we did for the whole attack — haul wounded guys. Of course, some guys who weren’t wounded jumped into the boat, too, like every man for himself.”
Johann and the other rescuers tried to pull men from the oil-soaked water, but some were so severely burned that their flesh peeled off during the attempt.
“Guys who were injured would be screaming or hollering,” Johann said. “Some wouldn’t make a sound. In fact, I didn’t like to look at them. They tried to talk to you with their eyes … some were so wounded they didn’t make it out.”
After the battle, Johann recalled having to throw away his clothes.
“I got big blotches of oil on it from the battleships and big blotches of blood from the guys that worked on those battleships,” Johann said. “There was no salvaging them.”
Many sailors who perished had to be buried at sea the same day.
“We didn’t have enough room to keep them …,” Johann said. “We wrapped them up, tied them in canvas and had ceremonies and dropped them into the sea … They’d be a nuisance if anything. You’d have to get rid of them eventually anyway, so ‘let’s do it now and get it over with.’”
Post-Pearl Harbor, Johann made a quick trip home before returning to the Navy to help with the war effort. He spent his remaining “four years, one month and eight days” in the Navy delivering ammunition, food and medical supplies to Allied forces in the Pacific.
“All I did was save lives,” Johann said. “That’s the only thing I’m proud of.”
On Aug. 25, 1945, he received an honorable discharge. For his heroics, Johann earned the U.S. Navy Commendation Medal of Valor.
After returning to civilian life, he continued serving others as a career and a pastime.
“The only skill I had was saving people,” Johann said.
Starting in the early 1950s, Johann worked at the Portland Fire Department for 27 years protecting “lives and property.” He was also a volunteer for Oregon Search and Rescue and a member of the mountain climbing club The Mazamas, where he gave guided tours to the public. He co-founded the North Lincoln County Museum along with his late wife, Marion. Additionally, for 15 years, he served on Lincoln City’s city council.
His Navy career, which started as a way for him, a boy from an impoverished family, to make money, shaped how he lived the rest of his life.
“I feel good about all that I accomplished …,” Johann said, adding that helping people gave him purpose.
For those who want to follow in his footsteps, Johann encouraged them to “Go for it.”
“Do something (for others),” he said. “Other people just waste their lives sitting on the couch.”