Pearl Harbor survivor cruises local trail via motorized chair
Eighty years ago, Ed Johann helped rescue scores of his fellow sailors when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, hauling wounded men to the hospital ship while dodging enemy fire.
Just 17 at the time, Johann said that was the day he turned from a "boy sailor to a man."
He earned the U.S. Navy Commendation Medal of Valor for his heroics and served precisely "four years, one month and eight days" in the Navy.
As impressive as the feat was, it was merely the start to a long and rich life.
After leaving the Navy, Johann went on to volunteer for Oregon Search and Rescue, worked for the Portland Fire Department for 27 years "saving lives and property" and was a member of the Mazamas, a mountain hiking club through which he gave guided tours to the public, including, at one point, four blind children.
The days he wasn't on duty at the fire department (he worked 24 hours on, 48 hours off), he spent working at sawmills, hiking and mountain climbing. Johann has climbed several of Oregon's tallest peaks, including Mount Hood, the Three Sisters, as well as others in Mexico and South America, sometimes sleeping on the summit overnight and returning in the morning. He participated in bodybuilding contests and wrestling matches for many years as well.
Johann also served on the City Council in Lincoln City for 15 years, never missing a meeting, and co-founded the North Lincoln County Museum.
He built a house with his father in Lincoln City, where he lived for many years. Today, it serves as a beach vacation home for him and his family.
A jack of all trades, he was also an avid writer and penned several books.
His active lifestyle started to wane when Johan reached his 80s, and eventually he moved into Marquis Newberg, an assisted living and rehabilitation center. Now 99, his mobility is limited; he has little use of his legs, struggles to stand without support and no longer possesses the dexterity to write.
But none of that mattered on Aug. 5 when, for the first time in years, Johann 'hiked' a trail independently.
Thanks to the nonprofit David's Chair, Johann traversed a portion of Chehalem Glenn Golf Course's Gettman Loop trail via a motorized chair. Decked out in a "Pearl Harbor Survivor" cap and a shirt displaying his photograph -- the same picture used in the Lincoln City plaza named after him -- he spoke softly but excitedly to his granddaughter, Rachel Howard, about the lush vegetation around him.
"I go places to speak, but I never get out like this, ever," Johann said. "This is the first time. I enjoy it. In fact, I might stay here and not come back with you guys. I want to come again tomorrow. I want to stay here all night."
As he drove down the path, his entourage -- including Kat Ricker from the Chehalem Park and Recreation District, Brian Moyer from David's Chair Northwest Oregon and American Legion Post 57 Commander Michael Ireton -- followed closely behind.
"It's a lot of fun," Moyer, who transported the chair to the golf course, said. "As a veteran myself, being able to see a guy who went through Pearl Harbor is incredible … He didn't stop serving people when he got out of the military, he kept that up, so it feels really good to be able to help him."
David's Chair was founded five years ago to help individuals with mobility challenges experience life, especially the outdoors, independently again. So far, the organization has accumulated eight chairs that can travel across sand and snow, which they lend to people upon request. Although Johann could only use the device for a certain amount of time, Moyer said his family can apply again to use it in the future if desired.
While it was Johann's special day, he spent much of his time joking around and making other people laugh.
"This is so easy, an idiot could drive this thing!" he said, eliciting loud guffaws.
"You are!" Howard said.
After the hike, Johann and crew sat down for lunch.
At one point, Johann's chair began to drift away from the table, causing him to shout, "I'm being kidnapped!" Moyer managed to catch him before the chair crushed too many flowers.
"I thought the bill was coming," he joked after learning he had accidently moved the joystick with his wrist.
When Howard started showing bodybuilding and wrestling pictures of Johann from his youth, the table collectively 'oohed' and 'ahhed' at his physique and then-16-inch biceps.
Johann simply craned his neck, nodded and said, "Oh, that one, yeah."
When asked what it's like to be related to him, Jason Jennings, his great-grandson, who stopped by in the middle of lunch, said, "Insane, really."
"It's kind of daunting the life that Ed has lived, in comparison to anyone else, and the things he has completed by the age I'm at now currently -- it's like, he can move mountains truly," Jennings, who is 21 years old, said. "It puts things into perspective for future generations what the greatest generation was able to complete. This is the purest form of a human being and I still think it's amazing that I'm able to have a conversation with him, and a lot of people can't say the same."
Howard added that being around Johann has changed the way she lives her life.
"For me, I can do anything I can think of or want to do, for good reason," she said. "It's a matter of putting your mind to it and getting it done."
Now, one of the main obstacles Johann faces is lack of mobility and independence.
"I miss it, I miss it," Johann said. "I can't even stand up without grabbing something now. Before I used to hike and walk and mountain climb and do all kinds of physical things, and now I can't do anything. I can't walk, I can't run, I can't dance -- all the things I used to do. It's different. You just got to accept it. I'm glad I'm here, even though it ain't as good at it used to be."
But no matter the challenge, "I just go with the flow," he said. "When things are terrible, I say, 'things are terrible' and just keep doing what I'm doing."
CPRD is partnering with David's Chair and local organizations to acquire three motorized chairs for the Newberg community to use, free of charge. One chair, the paragolfer, will allow paraplegic people to golf again.
For more information on David's Chair, or to donate or request a chair, visit davidschair.org.
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