MONROE, La. – Every veteran has a story, and the Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (LDVA) is trying to capture the incredible stories of strength and heroism once displayed by the men and women that currently reside at its five world-class veterans’ homes.
Today, we shine a spotlight on U.S. Army veteran and LDVA Northeast Louisiana Veterans Home resident, John O. Lee.
Lee was born on June 16, 1924 on a farm in Pearl River County, Mississippi to James Oscar and Nelly Artemis Perkins Lee. He was one of 12 children raised by the hardworking family.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army on April 25, 1945. “they sent me to Camp Livingston to train,” he says.
Camp Livingston was open from 1940-1945 and was first known as Camp Tioga. Over 500,000 troops trained on the 47,000-acre base during the war. Lee earned an expert infantryman badge on the M1 Garand rifle during his training which is widely regarded by military historians, veterans, firearms experts, and analysts around the world as the overall best rifle of WWII.
Two of Lee’s brothers also served during the war. “My oldest brother, Jesse, served five years in the U.S. Navy. My brother Clayton was killed-in-action in North Africa, and my other brother, Herman, served in the U.S. Army, too.”
Lee’s time in service was spent overseas. “The Gen. Mann brought us to Yokohama Base.” The USS General W. A. Mann (AP-112) was a troop transport that served with the United States Navy in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
While stationed in Yokohama, Japan, Lee, who was a certified truck driver light helped build roads. “We took down what was left of Hiroshima and helped them build roads,” he says referencing world’s first deployed atomic bomb over the Japanese city.
Lee says he also spent some time in Tokyo which was split in half at the time. “The north half was off limits to us because that’s where they built those suicide (Kamikaze) planes.”
Kamikaze were Japanese suicide pilots who attacked Allied warships in the Pacific Ocean during the Second World War. The name means ” divine wind” and refers to a typhoon that destroyed an enemy fleet in the 13th century.
While overseas, Lee got word that his brother Clayton has been killed-in-action while serving in North Africa. He was brought stateside so he could be there for his family.
Lee was separated from the Army on Oct. 22, 1946 at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland. For his service, Lee earned the Asiatic Pacific Theater Ribbon, WWII Victory Ribbon, and the Army Occupational Medal (Japan).
If he had a do-over he says, “I would have made a career out of it.” Lee highly recommends military service to the younger generation as it helped shape his life.
Lee went back to farming and eventually married Martha Louise Butler who he’d met at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. The couple would raise two children, John and Betty Louise, while Lee worked for a power company.
Lee has lived at LDVA’s NELVH for the past two-and-half years. He says, “everything is good, but the food could use some seasoning.”
He’s made a few good friends and enjoy being able to spend time with fellow veterans. His advice to veterans that may be struggling at home and considering life at one of LDVA’s veteran’s homes is, “come on!”