A 99-year-old World War II veteran just received some long-overdue medals at a ceremony in Lakewood. Private First Class Buford Johnson served in Europe under General George Patton during the Battle of the Bulge. Johnson’s daughter, Darlene Johnson Ortega, says her dad was ready to serve when the Army drafted him, “because it was for his country and they called upon him.”
In the summer of 1944, Johnson’s company crossed the English Channel and landed on the beach in France. They then traveled by train, truck and on foot to the front lines, delivering supplies. That November, a piece of shrapnel hit Buford below the knee. He was treated on the battlefield and kept fighting. But his daughter says, he didn’t talk much about the experience.
“When he would talk about the war he would tell people that war was very terrible that nobody needed to know about everything that happened. That there were some things that happened during the war and some people were injured terribly that shouldn’t even know or talk about it because that would give him bad memories,” she says.
Buford was honorably discharged in the fall of 1945. He went home to his wife and family in New Mexico.
“Once he came back to the United States he wanted to be with the kids, but there weren’t any jobs in New Mexico. His dad had taught him how to work the fields and how to milk cows and how to be a ranch hand and be a cowboy, so that’s what he would do in Montana and Wyoming,” Darlene says.
As a result, Darlene says she didn’t get to see her dad much. But, Buford came to live with Darlene and her family after he had a stroke 17 years ago. She says her dad, who’s bilingual, still reads every day and has always been a sharp guy.
“Even though his education at the school was only third grade, grandmother and grandfather homeschooled him and he passed those tests going into the service with flying colors,” she says.
Darlene says somehow Buford never received all the medals he earned, but did get a few when the war was over. He asked his mother to keep them safe. Then years later, he asked her for them because he wanted his kids to see them. Darlene says, “she couldn’t find them. They were in her family trunk and she couldn’t find the few of them they did give to him.”
Darlene asked Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s office for help replacing the missing medals and to get him the ones he never received. So 72 years after he came home from war, Private First Class Buford Johnson was awarded the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart and a handful of others. A couple of days after last month’s ceremony, he again wore those medals at the local American Legion Post.
“Everybody there just kept clapping and they were so happy with him,” she says, they wanted to, “shake hands and thank him for his service, it was so neat, really wonderful,”
The celebration of Buford Johnson will continue with an early 100th birthday party this summer, in advance of his October birthday.
The military medals presented to PFC Johnson at the February ceremony include: Bronze Star Medal; Purple Heart Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; Combat Infantryman Badge, 1st Award; Marksman Badges – Expert Sharpshooter with the Marksman Clasp; and an Honorable Service Lapel, WWII Pin.