Delton Lee Johnson: From medic to Peace Ambassador at Korean Armistice ceremonies

August 29, 2003
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesHe was brash young kid who wanted to help and as a Navy medic treated both Koreans and Americans in the thick of the war.Now, 50 years after the Korean War Armistice, Delton Lee Johnson of Santa Paula returned where he was hailed as An Ambassador for Peace.Johnson and his wife, Margaret, were lauded at the weeklong event marking the end of the war between North and South Korea where millions of Koreans and over 50,000 Americans lost their lives.“I am not a special hero, I am one of over 200,000 guys,” who left the United States to help the sorely outnumbered and outgunned South Koreans fight, said Johnson.The Ambassador for Peace proclamation noted that “It is a great honor and pleasure to express the everlasting gratitude of the Republic of Korea and our people for the service you and your countrymen have performed in restoring and preserving our freedom and democracy. We cherish in our hearts the memory of your boundless sacrifices in helping us reestablish our Free Nation. In grateful appreciation of your dedicated contributions, it is our privilege to proclaim you An Ambassador of Peace with every good wish of the People of the Republic of Korea. Let each of us reaffirm our mutual respect and friendship that they may endure for generations to come.”“As a medic about half of my patients were Koreans; they had enormous casualties. . .their deaths were more than twice ours.”Johnson and others who fought in Korea - representatives of the 21 nations that took part in the war - were lauded, wined, dined and given an array of proclamations and medals for their help.A member of Korean War Veterans Association #56 and Mercer-Prieto VFW Post #2043, Johnson said that his visit to Korea “wasn’t any worse than the last time.”There is still row after row of razor wire still stretched between the North and the South and “thousands and thousands of landmines to keep people out of the Demilitarized Zone.”
A physical therapy tech, Johnson still has photos of his duty in Korea, many of them of children he treated.“I always took pictures of the kids,” many who smiled for the camera although horribly wounded.Being a medic meant going after the patients and often coming under fire. Johnson said he decided to become a medic because his mother “didn’t want me killing other mothers’ sons.”His first brush with the war, in Lincoln, Nebraska, was disturbing: “I got on a train sat down next to the prettiest girl; she was pregnant, a great gal about ready to graduate from UC Berkeley. She asked me where I was going and when I told her I didn’t hear another word for about 50 miles. . .she finally said she wanted me to know that her husband had been sent to Korea and was already dead. It was a dangerous place to be.”Johnson soon learned she was right: His first patient the night he arrived in Korea was an American with fatal injuries. “I did everything I could to help him,” on the special watch for those about to die. Although at one point the injured man rallied, at other times he thought Johnson was his mother. “It was hard, real hard. . .”Overall, Johnson noted, “I did my job the best I could; other people did their job and it got me through and I did my job,” to save their lives when they were wounded.And the people of Korea “really cared for us; I felt really good going back. In my own case I look back on it and think I had some really difficult times but my experiences were less difficult than others’. I got to go to college on the GI Bill and I thank America for that. I met my great wife Margaret and to tell the truth I’m happy.”At one of the ceremonies Johnson was proudly wearing his medals on a Hawaiian shirt when he was unexpectedly asked to be “one of the two Americans to lay a wreath on the memorial to American war veterans. . .even with the Hawaiian shirt they asked me anyway.”

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