History with a Hero

Without America’s veterans, our beloved country would not exist as we know it today. I am grateful for their sacrifices to protect our freedoms. I believe that passing this gratitude and appreciation onto the next generation is invaluable.

Earlier this week, our elementary schools were preparing projects about respecting and honoring Veteran’s Day to share with their classmates, and learning about different components of military service. One Bauerwood 3rd grade classroom was creating lap quilts that will be taken down to the VA.

Right before the anniversary of D-Day this year (June 6), Sandy Hill 4th and 5th graders also had the distinct privilege of meeting a very decorated war veteran and local hero.

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Al Johnson

After his initial medical training, Al Johnson signed up for a very risky assignment. He worked during World War II as a spy for the secret division called Office of Strategic Services (OSS), aiding the French Resistance and cover operations in Germany and China. The OSS is the predecessor to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

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Al Johnson joined the military and was assigned medical training.

Christy Roloffs is a Sandy Hill teacher and through family connections was aware of his amazing story. Mrs. Roloffs invited Mr. Johnson as a guest speaker to make this history come alive. She knew that a living example is far superior to textbooks and films.  

The confidential nature of the work he did was made public in 1987 when the order of secrecy was lifted. At this time, the story of his work and the OSS is fairly new; sadly many who experienced it with Mr. Johnson are no longer alive.

Just last year, nearly 3/4 of a century after the war, the contributions of Al and his team were recognized with Congressional Gold Medals. This is the nation’s highest civilian honor. The members of the OSS were previously awarded the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction in France. 

He brought photo albums, his medal cases, and even pulled out his OSS medal and let the kids touch it. The kids were enthralled, listened intently and asked great questions.

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What an amazing experience for our students to spend this time with Mr. Johnson and learn first hand what his military career was like.

Every day is a great day to tell all those who served our country in the military thank you for their service. We are thankful for all they have given to protect our freedoms and way of life in the United States of America. We are also so proud of all our Jenison Alumni and parents that served or are currently serving their country.

For the full story of Al Johnson’s service, check out the video below.

For more local news coverage on Mr. Johnson: WOOD TV and HOLLAND SENTINEL

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