Graveside services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at Yonah Memorial Gardens with the Rev. Roy G. Rogers officiating.
Loy Johnson’s life constituted a very American story. He was born outside of Clarkesville in 1922 to the late Jessie Lee Lloyd and William Johnson, who were sharecroppers. When he was 6 years old, his father died of typhoid and Johnson soon had to quit school to work the farm and help his mother raise his two younger sisters, Virginia and Ruth. His son, Dennis Johnson, recalls his father told him that as a very small boy, he’d had to push a plow that his mother had pulled. “He was brought up in pretty humble beginnings,” said Dennis Johnson.
Nonetheless he had earned his way into a welding school to better his position in life when war broke out and he was drafted into the army. While stationed at Fort Upton on Long Island, N.Y., he met Marion Walsh, the daughter of a New York cab driver, who worked in the secretarial pool at the base. They were married in March of 1945, shortly before Johnson was deployed to the European Theater, where he was a sergeant with the motor pool of the 101st Airborne.
Marching through Germany during the last days of the war, Johnson’s unit unknowingly passed the Dachau concentration camp, which had just been abandoned by the German army, and the platoon was surrounded by thousands of starved inmates. In an oral history given to his son Dennis, Loy Johnson recalled giving all his food out to them while in a state of shock. He told his son, “That’s the worst thing I ever saw.” Reminded that he’d seen battle scenes and other scenes of horror in the war, he replied, “There’s even worse things than that.”
After the war, Johnson moved back to the Cornelia area for several years with Marion, fathering two sons, William and Thomas. However, when times proved difficult he moved the family to New York in search of work in the burgeoning aerospace industry on Long Island, building a home with his own hands in the town of Patchogue, and finally landing a position as a welder at a nearby plant, where he would eventually weld parts of the Apollo lunar landing vehicle.
Johnson remained there, fathering one more son, Dennis, until his retirement 30 years later, at which point he finally moved back to his beloved South, to Orlando, Fla.
“He held down two or three jobs at a time to put us through school,” remembered his son, Dennis. “He really believed in the American dream, wanted to see us make it. There’s a kind of heroism in how hard he worked for that.”
In later years, he was in frail health and had moved with Marion near the home of his son Thomas, in Issaquah, Wash., outside Seattle.
He is survived by his wife and sons Thomas and Dennis, two half-sisters, Barbara Sheetz of Charlotte, N.C., and Glenda Johnson of Tifton, and grandchildren Sarah, Elizabeth, Brie and Brett.
He is preceded in death by his oldest son, William, who died in 2008.
At the time of his death, he and his wife were visiting his son Thomas, who had just prepared him a hamburger, his favorite meal.
“If he could have picked a way to go, that would have been it,” said Thomas.
The family will receive friends from 4-7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 4, at Whitfield Funeral Home, North Chapel, Demorest.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to local hospice services.
Those wishing to express online condolences to the Johnson family may do so by visiting whitfieldfuneralhomes.com.
Arrangements are in the care of Whitfield Funeral Home, North Chapel, Demorest.
The Northeast Georgian
November 2, 2011