Area vet remembers V-E Day in hospital

Sunday, May 8, 2005

Leroy Johnston remembers what he was doing 60 years ago today.

He was in a London hospital, unable to walk.

He had a bad case of trench foot. He and some other members of his infantry unit had found themselves trapped in an open field that was wet and cold.

Every time one of the U.S. troops would raise his head, shots were fired at them. They had to wait three days for reinforcements. By the time they could move, Johnston couldn't.

The circulation was so bad in his legs, they turned dark red, almost black, so he wound up in the hospital.

It was there he found out the war was over.

Today marks the 60th anniversary of V-E Day, the day that officially ended the European part of World War II.

The men in his ward, many also with trench foot, celebrated through their misery.

"I couldn't even get out of bed at the time, but we were all pretty happy," he said.

Meanwhile, on May 8, 1945 -- eight days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide and 13 days after U.S. and Soviet troops united to cut Germany in two -- massive celebrations took place in the streets of Europe as millions gleefully spilled into city streets.

The Allies had agreed to mark May 9 to be V-E Day, but western journalists broke the story May 8.

Denmark and the Netherlands kicked off the celebration of the 60th anniversary, and celebrations around Europe will culminate Monday with world leaders attending a parade at Moscow's Red Square.

Other events were scheduled in France and Germany.

Today, President Bush is to lead a cermony at the American cemetery in Maastrich, the Netherlands. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invited more than 50 world leaders, including Bush, to celebrate V-E Day.

As for Johnston, a Chicago native, he will celebrate in the Missouri Veterans Home, where he says he is happy. He enjoys socializing and playing bingo, where he won $4 on Thursday.

The trench foot he was suffering through 60 years ago was his second injury of the war.

The first time, in July 1944, the last of 15 mortar shells aimed at his unit in France shot shrapnel into his foot. He spent two months recovering from that injury and another month catching up to his unit. The unit traveled through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and eventually to Germany, where he developed his second injury.

He stayed in the hospital 5 1/2 months with that injury before coming home.

He said doctors wanted to remove his legs below the knee, but he refused. Today, at 82 years old, Johnston still walks without a cane.

bmiller@semissourian.com

243-6635

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