Jeff Manes: Kouts man packs much into 90 years
January 4, 2013 11:42AM
Floyd Johnson, 90, of Kouts helped Hebron High School win the first South County Tournament basketball title in 1938, served with the Navy in the Pacific Theater during World War II, and was an educator for 33 years. | Photo provided
Updated: February 7, 2013 6:27AM
“And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine in the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.”
— From the movie “Hoosiers”
Floyd Johnson, 90, lives in Kouts. He was married to Velda two weeks shy of 65 years before her passing.
He is a World War II veteran, a retired teacher and was quite an athlete in his day.
“I grew up in Hebron,” Johnson began. “I graduated from Hebron High School in 1940.”
You’re a tall man for your generation; did you play basketball for the Hawks?
“Yes, but we didn’t have very good gymnasiums in those days. Kouts didn’t even have a gymnasium. But in 1938, they finished a nice new school here in Kouts.
“The principals at Kouts, Boone Grove, Morgan Township and Hebron decided to have a holiday tournament on Jan. 1. It was a blind-draw tournament. There were two games in the afternoon and two in the evening; there was a consolation game.”
“Hebron won the first South County Tournament; we beat Morgan Township in the championship game. Morgan had a bunch of big, strong farm boys. Our victory was somewhat of an upset.”
Did you play center?
“Yes, I was a sophomore.”
“I joined the service when I was 20, and did a little more than three years — South Pacific naval duty. I was involved in all the major invasions on an amphibious transport. We landed Marines on islands.”
Like an LST?
“No, the USS Sheridan was a bigger ship than that. We had about 500 crew members and could carry about 1,000 troops. “
Name a few of the invasions with which you were involved.
“One of the first we made was in the Gilbert Islands, then the Marshall Islands. We made landings in Saipan, Guam, Okinawa, three in the Philippines ... .
Did your ship get torpedoed?
“No, I never received a scratch; we were well-protected. But we were under attack many times. We had destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers around us all the time.
“In the Philippines, we did get involved with some kamikaze planes, which hit our convoy, but we escaped. The ship next to us got hit.”
Any other World War II memories?
“We would unload our battle troops, then serve as a hospital ship. We’d take the wounded back to places like Pearl Harbor. One of the things I remember that still bothers me about the war is burying guys at sea. We didn’t have the refrigeration back then.”
Were you married to Velda while you served?
“No, but we did get engaged while I was on leave in ’45. We got married in ’46; I was working at U.S. Steel. I decided that was not the life for me. I always liked school and decided I wanted to be a teacher.”
What college did you attend?
“I started at Valparaiso University, but decided that was a little too close to home. After a year, I transferred to Ball State University. It’s a very good teachers’ college. While at Valpo, I played varsity baseball.”
Let me guess, first base?
“That’s right. When I was growing up, softball was a big thing. Every little town had a lighted softball field.
“There wasn’t any television back then. Evening softball games were a big deal. I missed a lot of that while in the service and was all gung ho to catch up on all that.
“It didn’t take me long to figure out that I was married and had better settle down and get to work.”
Where was your first teaching job?
“In southern Indiana, a town by the name of Williams, near Bedford. I stayed there two years, then I went from Williams to a town named Cayuga.
“Then I had a chance to come to Kouts High School. I taught at Kouts for nine years and finished my career at Portage High School.”
What years were you at Portage?
“From ’64 to ’82.”
Did you know a football coach named Les Klein?
“Sure, I know Les Klein well.”
Les grew up with my parents; like you, he was quite an athlete in his day. What subjects did you teach?
“Business and physical education. I finished as an assistant principal at Portage.”
Did you ever coach sports?
“In my early years, I coached basketball, six-man football and track.”
What year did you retire?
“In 1982; I taught for 33 years and have been retired for 30.”
Did you and Velda travel in retirement?
“Oh, yeah. We spent some winters in Arizona. I got to go back to Hawaii and see some of the sights I’d seen when I was in the service.”
Floyd, it’s been great talking to you. Is there anything I didn’t ask you or something you’d like in your story?
“Well, I tried out with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1941. They sent me home, saying, ‘We’re not going to keep you this year, but come back next year.’ But the war was going on by then and I joined the Navy.”
I received an email from a lady I don’t know regarding interviewing Floyd Johnson. She told me everyone in Kouts thinks the world of him and felt the same about his beloved wife, Velda.
During the middle of our interview, there was a knock at Floyd’s door. With the aid of a walker, the old-timer made his way back to the kitchen with a plate of goodies. I asked him, “Meals on Wheels?”
Floyd smiled and said, “No, just a friendly neighbor.”
You’ve lived a good life, Mr. Johnson.