In his lifetime, Joseph Quitman Johnson has endured things that no one should ever have to experience.
Through those hardships, the Sun City West man emerged a survivor, dedicating his life to helping others who are in similar circumstances.
Johnson recently won a prestigious national honor for his work.
Johnson, 81, got away with enlisting in the U.S. Army when he was 14.
He was sent to the Philippines and served in the 31st Infantry Regiment.
Though his age was soon discovered and plans made to send him back home, fate entered.
He fought at Bataan and Corregidor until he was captured on May 6, 1942, and taken as a prisoner of war.
He was just 16 years old.
He spent the remainder of World War II doing slave labor, enduring torture and watching scores of his friends die. Johnson came to be known as the "Baby of Bataan," because he was believed to be the youngest prisoner of war in that arena.
Johnson now spends his time helping to educate people about the plight of prisoners of war and those who are missing in action, a particularly timely subject given current U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to lecturing at Kiwanis, Lions and other service clubs, Johnson works with high schools in Illinois, Idaho and Tennessee, as well as students from Ironwood High School in Glendale. He also works 2 days a week as a courier for Recreation Centers of Sun City West, Inc., in its golf operations division.
Two years ago, Johnson, who lives with his wife Marilyn, wrote a book entitled Baby of Bataan: Memoir of a 14 Year Old Soldier in World War II, detailing his experiences in the war. It helped shed light on what happened to many of the soldiers during those bleak years.
"I didn't write a war book, I wrote a book about me growing up," he said. "I made up my mind to just make this book about me.
People don't realize how wars are fought, and that plans don't always pan out."
Johnson's devotion to raising awareness of POWs and MIAs caught the attention of Gene Adee, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force
and on the board of directors of Voices Take Flight, a Tempe non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting and recognizing service before self, as well as heightening awareness of neurological disease.
Adee nominated Johnson for the Schow-Donnelly Award, a national honor given each year to one military veteran
and one civilian for their exemplary service to the nation and community.
"Joe, through his selfless dedication and efforts, has brought renewed interest in our servicemen and women, and brought the plight of our
POWs & MIAs to the public's forefront, moving us closer to bringing them home," Adee said. "This is the true essence of the Schow-Donnelly Award and why I nominated Joe . . . he's touched me more deeply than anyone I've ever met."
Johnson received his award during a ceremony March 9. He said he was humbled by the experience.
"It was a great ceremony. It was quite an honor.
I met many fine Americans there, whose lives you would be doing well to emulate."
When asked if there were ever times he wished he hadn't enlisted in the Army, Johnson became philosophical.
"I have no regrets. Everyone would like to go back and relive their life, but you have to be realistic."
Click here for photos
of Joe and his award
Special for The Republic
May 21, 2007
About the Schow-Donnelly
Award and Voices Take Flight
Schow-Donnelly Award, a national honor given each year to one military veteran
and one civilian for their exemplary service before self to the nation and community they serve.
The award was named for Lt. Col. K.C. Schow Jr., USAF retired, and Maj. Michael Donnelly, USAF retired,
who flew 35 F-16 missions together as lead and wingman during the Persian Gulf War of 1991.
In 1998, shortly after retiring from the military, Schow was diagnosed with an extremely rare tumorigenic form of cancer.
He died on July 28, 2002. In 1996, Donnelly was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),
more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He died in 2005.
Past recipients of the award include former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who died fighting in Afghanistan;
former Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley; businessman Ross Perot Sr.; and pro baseball icon Curt Schilling and his wife Shonda.
For more information on the organization and the award, visit the Voices Take Flight Homepage http://vtf.clubexpress.com/
There you will also find more information on Joe Johnson and the award.
Main Page Joe Johnson's Biography Page