Kansas WWII veteran Arris Johnson turns 100 in November
Arris Johnson, Ph.D. is a former professor at Fort Hays State University, and he will be 100 in November. He went to elementary school in Kanona, which is now an unincorporated community.
He and his friend Ivis Hanson, who turned 100 in September, went together in 8th grade. After entering high school, Johnson and Hanson did not follow the communication.
However, both men were drafted into the United States Army during World War II, and in 1945 they both ended up in the Elbe region around the same time. Johnson’s regiment was stationed on the west bank of the river, and he was among the first to encounter the Russians there. The Americans negotiated with the Russians on the eastern shore to release their American prisoners. Johnson’s group traded for a group of German prisoners to retrieve their men.
“The German soldiers didn’t want to go there,” Johnson said.
“The Russians were killing German prisoners,” said his wife, Virginia Johnson. “We never knew what happened to them. “
During the war, Johnson worked with the Army’s Red Cross division as secretary.
“He’s always been a good typist,” said Virginia Johnson.
He also did informal counseling work for the Red Cross. It was then that he first became interested in the field that would become his career.
Arris Johnson recalled an incident when a member of the bureau ordered a man to return to America and was reprimanded by his commander.
“The officer said, ‘You sent someone to his house and didn’t ask me for anything. You have to have permission, ”he said.
According to Arris Johnson, the officer was unaware that General Dwight D. Eisenhower had personally ordered the man to be sent home. His wife was dying and he needed to return to America.
“Well, he brightened up as soon as he heard Eisenhower’s name,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Johnson was interested in photography from an early age, even handcrafting his first enlarger. He took his Nikon camera to Europe with him, and he took many photographs of the war front. His photos show vivid images of a war-torn Germany. He still has footage of his station on the Elbe, including a photo showing the large group of German prisoners they were to exchange.
“What I didn’t know is that Germany is quite north of us,” he said. “The winter was freezing. The soldiers took refuge in burrows to warm up. This guy, ”he said, pointing to one of his photos,“ had quite a story. Another man was with him in the burrow, he came out and his arm was shot. He went back to the foxhole and said, “I’m going home. I lost my arm.
Even though conditions in Europe were unpleasant, Virginia Johnson said how grateful she was that her husband was in Europe rather than the Pacific. The Japanese would “kill themselves to get someone else,” she said.
Life after WWII
The couple met after the war, getting married in 1947. They will celebrate their 75th anniversary in January.
Arris Johnson was recruited six weeks before his graduation from Fort Hays State University, so he returned after the war to complete his bachelor’s degree. He received his masters degree from Kansas State University and eventually returned to FHSU to teach counseling for two decades.
“I had a lot of experience with the discipline,” Johnson said.
Upon his retirement from Fort Hays in 1985, he was appointed Grand Master Freemason of the State of Kansas.
A few weeks ago, Johnson’s old friend Ivis Hanson contacted for the first time in 8th grade, and they have maintained close communication since then. According to Virginia Johnson, Hanson thought he was the only one in their group still around at the time.
“Arris must have written to him and said, ‘Oh no, you’re not,’ she said with a smile. “We have been writing to him ever since.
She said her husband was happy to receive Hanson’s letter. This match is how they found out that they had been in the same area of Germany in 1945.
Johnson has a lot of stories to tell. But Virginia Johnson also has her own war stories. His father and General Eisenhower shared a birthday and they traded cards for years. She and her husband were invited to Abilene for the opening of the “Ike Museum” as she called it. The couple both bemoan the general public’s lack of interest in the story.
“There’s no way I can tell you everything,” said Arris Johnson, “but it’s worth it.”