News

Never Forget: Vet reaches 100 after surviving infamous attack

Remember Pearl Harbor.

It was more than a rallying cry for the Americans who immediately went to to enlist after hearing about the attack on a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean.

By Brad Mosher
dcherald@countrymedia.net

Millions responded to the news.

Some joined the military.

Some started working in defense plants.

Some helped served on the home front by organizing rationing boards and scrap metal drives.

Remember Pearl Harbor was a motivator for a nation to transform from a majority agrarian society to manufacturing giant.

World War II had changed America.

But Pearl Harbor was not alone.

The former Navy coaling station in the Pacific Ocean was just one of the targets of the Imperial Japanese Navy on the “Day that will live in infamy.”.

In addition to the naval base and battleship row, the attack also focused on the Wheeler Army Air Base, Scholfield Barracks and the Naval Air Station base in Kaneohe.

At Kaneohe, there was a seaplane base which was attacked just before the full attack on Pearl Harbor.

Wheeler Air Base was home to almost 150 fighters.

On that Sunday morning in 1941, it took 14 Japanese fighters and 25 dive bombers only minutes to destroy and damage about 50 aircraft on the ground, in addition to hangars and barracks. Thirty-six people died and another 74 were wounded in the attack.

The attack continued at Scholfield Barracks, adding to casualty and death tolls.

That was the part of the attack that seems to have been pushed aside due to the main focus on Pearl Harbor.

Clayton Johnson was born near Dunn Center in 1918, but he would find himself involved in one of the most pivotal events in U.S. History when he survived the attack on Pearl Harbor while stationed at a nearby Army base in 1941. He turned 100 on Nov. 5 in Dickinson.

For Clayton Johnsen, the view of the attack was always focused inland, away from Battleship Row.

According to a recounting by Johnsen’s son Owen many years later, his father was leaving the mess hall Sunday morning when the attack started on the Army base.

“He and his buddy watched unidentified planes fly overhead through Kolekole Pass. His buddy said it must have been an air show and that is when the bombs started falling.

“Everybody grabbed their guns and went to the roofs of Schofield Barracks as the planes came and went the same way,” the son explained his father’s recounting of the attack.

For Clayton Johnsen, the attack came just two days before his two-year enlistment was up. It was extended until the end of the war, after serving six years.

A company clerk with the 25th Infantry Division, he would go on to serve in the South Pacific, including action at Guadacanal.

When Clayton Johnsen returned after the war, he got married and opened a hardware store in Werner, just a short distance from where he was born in 1918 and raised. After also farming his stepfather’s homestead, the veteran moved to Dickinson in 1955.

A member of the National Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, he celebrated his 100th birthday on Nov. 5.

At one time, there were thousands of members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. By 2011, the number had dropped to less than 2,700 when the organization was officially disbanded during the 70th anniversary of the attack.

Ray Chavez of San Diego had been the oldest living Pearl Harbor survivor until his death in November at the age of 105.