July 09, 2014 - By Meg Peters
Veterans from Lake Orion Post 233 and Oxford Post 108 rode the Grand Princess July 2 around the outskirts of Lake Orion. New to the area, Harold Johnson (in purple) met and conversed with local vets while enjoying complimentary food. Photo by Katie Winkler (click for larger version)
Review Staff Writer
At age 92, not many of his good friends are still around, so Harold "Hal" Johnson moved to Lake Orion on July 2 to be closer to his lady friend who lives in Rochester Hills.
The same day the Lake Orion Fireworks Association, along with local community-oriented businesses, sponsored the first ever veterans' Grand Princess cruise around Lake Orion.
When LOFA president Carl Cyrwoski caught wind of the incoming WWII veteran—who helped seize the Japanese-held island of Iwo Jima in 1945— he made sure 'Hal' was on the 3 p.m. cruise.
"It's a pleasure to be respected for what I did," Johnson said. "I am a little bit of a lone ranger. There aren't many of us left that fought in WWII, so it surprises me to stop and think that there are not many people who are even alive from the big World War I was in," he mused.
Johnson was very pleased to be included in the free veteran's cruise aboard the Grand Princess, which toted about 180 local veterans around Lake Orion for an honorary cruise last week.
The Princess was aglow on the lake on July 4 as the fireworks exploded over Lake Orion.
Cyrowski called the display "the best ever" but said in a letter to The Review (see Page 6) that the display did not happen without a lot of effort by the volunteer committee.
Cyrowski criticized the Village of Lake Orion for what he termed obstructions that were put in place prior to the fireworks. The fireworks show was limited this year to use of six-inch shells, instead of eight-inch shells that the committee wanted to explode over the lake. (See Cyrowski's letter for the explanation why.)
Attendance at village locations, including Greens Park, was down this year due to the fact that the fireworks were shot from the Orion Township side of the lake and could not be seen as well from the village as they were in prior years. \
Lt. Dan Toth, commander of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department Orion Township substation said the fireworks were safe all the way around.
"The 4th of July fireworks was one of the safest in recent years considering the large crowds that converge on the area," Toth said . "We had zero injuries, zero traffic accidents, zero assaults and zero boating accidents stemming from the fireworks show. The minor calls we responded to related to fireworks and or parking complaints. It was a very successful event and a beautiful night."
Those cruising on the Detroit River Princess certainly enjoyed the show and the wonderful night. LOFA rented the Detroit River Princess boat for multiple events during the July 4 weekend, including a fireworks tour and private and public parties, and reserved Wednesday especially for local veterans.
Both Lake Orion's American Legion Post 233 members, as well as Oxford's Post 108 veterans were present, as well as other local veterans from the surrounding area.
"I just thought it was really great for LOFA to offer us that cruise. We all really appreciated it and had a great time. And it think all the rest of the veterans felt the same," Dennis Miller, Post 233 finance officer, said.
Veterans enjoyed complimentary Jet's Pizza, Buffalo Wild Wings pulled-pork sandwiches, Sagebrush Cantina enchiladas and Culver's custard deserts while reminiscing about the new and old times.
At age 22 Johnson enlisted in the Marines after graduating from General Motors Institute, and moved to Maui to begin training on its black sand gravel. It was nearly the same terrain found at Iwo Jima, the battle known as one of the bloodiest Pacific fights in WWII.
The battle itself was immortalized with the famous photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal of five U.S. Marines and one Navy Hospital Corpsman raising the American flag at the top of Mt. Suribachi, an icon that lives on through time.
As part of the 4th Division Regimental Weapons Infantry of the 23rd Marine Division, Johnson landed via the seventh wave on February 19, 1945. He landed on the shores of Iwo Jima known for its extensive cave and tunnel systems, bunkers and hidden artillery positions.
"At the time we landed there was so much confusion at the beach. We couldn't find where my outfit was. They just lined us all up as rifleman and we went."
"I loved the uniforms," he remembered. "But I didn't get a chance to wear the beautiful uniforms. They gave me the rifle instead because that's what they needed."
The island was taken over March 26, 1945, about 30 days later.
"Each fox hole had two guys at night, one awake and one sleeping a two-hour shift. During the day to keep awake we ate our K-rations, and we would use powdered coffee—just enough to get it wet—and we would drink that down to get the caffeine just to keep us going. For 30 days that was our routine," Johnson said.
"I managed to make it. I was from Flint. My buddy who I went in with got killed right beside me. We were pinned down at the time. A sniper got him. I took his personal affects to take home to his folks but my job was to keep going."
After the war Johnson stayed in a hospital in Chicago for a year with an internal head injury, later termed a concussion, before being sent home.
He worked as a salesman and built a company called Harold Johnson Associates which sold automobile parts to General Motors. He ran it until the age of 72 before handing it off to his son.
Now he volunteers for the Marine Corps League, and stays active with friends he has met along the way.
Johnson moved to Atwater St. in Lake Orion to be closer not only to his lady friend, but also his son Thad. His other daughter lives in a suburb of Owosso.
"I thought if I made it to 80 I will see the year 2000. I think I've been pretty darn good. Here I am. That was 14 years ago. So I'm living on somebody else's time. I am enjoying life."