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Four strangers’ chance encounter tugs at the heartstrings

Two unknown service members from JBLM show their kindness

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November 25 was supposed to be just another routine day for Karen Johnson taking care of her 95-year-old dad, retired Army Master Sgt. Leslie Johnson, of Lacey. Instead, two unknown service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord turned the Johnsons' day into a magical memory.

After a visit to the pharmacy at Madigan Army Medical Center, Karen took her dad over to the Lewis Main Exchange where he could get his pipe tobacco. With the ongoing construction at the Exchange, Karen opted to use her dad's wheelchair to help him navigate the store.

"After we got his tobacco around 6 p.m., Dad had to go to the bathroom," Karen said. "So I wheeled him over to the bathroom entrance. Two service members in (flightsuits) came out of the bathroom, and I asked if it was empty so I could take Dad in. But they said there was another gentleman in there."

Karen thanked the two service members and said she would wait until the other person in the bathroom came out so she could go in with her dad.

"One of them said, ‘You need help? We can take him,'" Karen said. "And they took him into the stall and helped him. They even stayed in the bathroom and helped him when he was done."

The two service members continued to lend a hand, getting Leslie and his wheelchair into the car as the four left the Exchange at the same time.

"I thanked them both for helping my dad, but I don't know who they are," Karen said.

The two service members also didn't know anything about the gentleman they were helping. They didn't know they were coming to the rescue of a man who risked his life helping others when he was just a teenager.

After enlisting in the Army at 18 years old in 1943 at Camp Shelby in his home state of Mississippi, Leslie was a World War II combat medic during D-Day June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France. He would also receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with Valor.

When the war ended, he was notified he would be assigned to a hospital. But he said no thanks.

"I don't do bed pans," Karen said she recalled her dad saying when he talked about why he changed his career from medic to transportation and then engineering for the Army.

Leslie had a 24-year Army career. He fought in Korea and was close to serving in Vietnam before he listened to his wife, Elfriede, and retired in 1964.

"He wanted to go to Vietnam, but my mom told him he had been through two wars and had (done) enough for his country," Karen said. "So he retired and we moved to Lacey in 1967 where we had family."

Another thing the two JBLM service members don't know is Leslie passed away Dec. 13. A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m., Dec. 26, at Woodlawn Funeral Home in Lacey. At 11 a.m., Dec. 27, Leslie will be interred at the Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent -- alongside Elfriede, who died in 2012.

"I just wanted to call someone and say thank you for helping my dad," she said. "I told my dad when we left, ‘See, there are still good people in the world.'"

(Photo: The Johnson’s family favorite photo of retired Master Sgt. Leslie Johnson from 2010. Photo credit: Pamela Kulokas, JBLM Public Affairs Office)

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