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In grandfather's footsteps | a family tradition at vmi - Carton Packing Manufacturer by grass lawn

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In grandfather's footsteps | a family tradition at vmi - Carton Packing Manufacturer by
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In grandfather's footsteps | a family tradition at vmi - Carton Packing Manufacturer

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By Darrell Laurant May 29, 2012 The News & Advance AMHERST At this point in their military careers, it would seem that retiredMarine Corps Master Sgt. Raymond Johnson vastly outranks hisgranddaughter Kayla Johnson, a Virginia Military Institute cadet.Yet last November, that didn't keep Kayla from giving her superiora direct order. "She didn't ask me," recalled Raymond Johnson with achuckle. "She told me." The occasion was the annual Ring Figure, a VMI traditioncelebrating the advancement (or survival) of the third-year class.Cadets choose their own dates for this event, which involves aformal dance as well as the presentation of the class ring, andKayla chose her grandfather. "The only problem," Raymond said, "was that I didn'tfit into my dress blues anymore.

I had to go up to Quantico and berefitted for some more." Monday was Memorial Day, a time to pay homage and gratitude forthose Americans killed in various wars - but also a good time tohonor those who are still alive. The survivors. Raymond Johnson, for example, served in three conflicts: World WarII, Korea and Vietnam. He spent 26 years in the Marine Corps,enlisting at age 19 in 1944 just in time to participate in the lastof the "island hopping" Pacific campaign to dislodge anddefeat the Japanese.

"I was on Iwo Jima when they planted the flag," he said,"but I didn't actually see it done. The guys who did it werefrom a different unit." So diverse was Johnson's service that he has to refer to ascrapbook - put together by his wife and granddaughter - to traceit accurately. The photographs and news clippings are like breadcrumbs left along a wooded trail to point the way out. "I enlisted," Johnson said with a smile, "to getaway from the farm. My dad worked us pretty hard." Now, after a 50-year circle, he's back on that same farm - just afew miles outside Amherst - in a house he helped to build.

"Two of my brothers also live on this land," he said,"and a couple of nephews. It's funny - when I left back in'44, I never planned to come back." He did manage to take one farm-acquired skill into the service withhim. At Fort Monmouth, N.J., after WWII, he served as one of thelast "horse Marines," riding a perimeter to guard anammunition depot. "I learned to ride when I was just a kid," he said,"and it came in handy." He served in the tropics (Iwo Jima, Guam, Okinawa), in the Arctic(Alaska and the Aleutian Islands) and a dozen stops in between(China, Japan, Europe, California). He fought the Japanese and thenhelped them adapt to being occupied.

He learned - the hard way -not to dig a fox hole in the wrong place on Iwo Jima, since it wasa volcanic island with hot springs underground. He received dozensof good conduct awards and then was busted down a rank when, herecalled, "this other guy and I were in a bar and missed ourship when it left." Meanwhile, his only granddaughter has been marching in hisfootsteps. "I guess the stories he used to tell me had a lot to do withme choosing the military," Kayla said. "VMI was the onlyplace I ever wanted to go to school." As for the freshman hazing known as the "rat line," Kaylarecalled, "I realized very quickly that it was just a mindgame. Most of the time, when I got punished, it was forgiggling." Her genetic toughness became apparent when she contracted thyroidcancer that forced her to miss most of a year at VMI.

"I got a lot of help there from my mom," Kayla said,"because she had the same thing and beat it." Her only lingering regret is that her brush with cancer - she's nowcancer-free, as is her mom - might keep her out of the Marine Corpswhen she graduates next year. "You can't be in the Marines if you're on medication,"she said. "I should still be able to go into the Army." This summer, she'll be taking a class in Irish history - inIreland. A new scrapbook is waiting.

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