Students, staff and community members listened to a detailed, personal account emphasizing the effects of war during “The Price of Freedom: An Interview with Dr. Arris Johnson, World War II Veteran” on Wednesday in Fort Hays State University’s Memorial Union’s Stouffer Lounge.
Johnson is an alumni and retired professor of FHSU, as well as a WWII veteran.
The event was sponsored by the FHSU Department of Geosciences and Department of History.
“This is happening because many years ago, American citizens answered the call of their nation and went to war to protect the ideals of democracy and freedom against the darkness brought upon by fascism,” said Richard Lisichenko, associate professor of geosciences. “Arris is one of those amazing people who served in that conflict, and like many of his fellow soldiers, returned home and asked for nothing in return.”
Johnson, who will turn 94 next month, began his lecture describing his background at FHSU.
“There were about 25 of us who were seniors,” he said. “Just before the semester started in the fall, people from the National Guard showed up.”
He described his times in training and the various travel around the United States before being sent to Europe with the 69th infantry division.
“We were well-trained,” he said. “Our division was considered to be the best trained soldiers, and they had a darn good record when they got to Europe.”
He then showed numerous slides from the war highlighting the conditions and hardships he faced.
The slides, which included many photos Johnson took, showed a wide variety of images including soldiers marching, weapons, temples, rivers, war zones and digging foxholes.
“Sure, it hurt like heck to lose your friends,” he said when he spoke about remaining strong. “You have to simply face it and deal with it.”
He pulled a small, beat-up Bible from a briefcase and held it up, saying, “This may be the best friend I had.”
Johnson expressed his appreciation for being able to share his story with FHSU students.
“Just last week, I got a communication in my mail,” he said. “They had done a survey, and they found 72 percent of seniors in high school don’t know we had WWII and fought Germany.
“That’s one reason I was so glad to come here tonight.”
Mirta M. Martin, FHSU president, thanked Johnson for his service and for sharing his memories with the FHSU family.
“Thank you for giving the blessings that come with liberty,” she said.
With each passing year, fewer and fewer veterans of WWII are around to tell their stories, Lisichenko said.
“Aside from the general history of WWII, there is the personal side of the war that can only be shared by someone who lived through it,” he said. “I hope that at a personal level, Dr. Johnson’s words resonate with our students, and they realize that back then, young people made a very big difference toward securing freedom and democracy for generations to come.”