The American Legion has championed veterans, youth and community programs around the country since it was incorporated nearly 100 years ago. In East Rockaway, American Legion Post 958 has embodied the organization’s philosophy for decades, with members routinely reaching out to veterans and other residents to lend a helping hand.
That continues to be one of the post’s main purposes, and since June, a new commander has been at the helm, directing those efforts. John Johnson, a Lynbrook resident who served in the Marine Corps, has been a member at the post for just two years, but has been involved with the American Legion for 42 years.
Johnson, 62, who grew up in Brooklyn, enlisted in the Marines in 1968, and was stationed in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. He had a different task than most Marines, however: he was an interpreter. That wasn’t his idea, Johnson said, but he was sent to Monterey, Calif., to learn Vietnamese before he was deployed.
In Vietnam he was part of a program that gave North Vietnamese soldiers an opportunity to surrender to U.S. military personnel and be taken to South Vietnam. The enemy soldiers would undergo a reorientation that featured reasons why the U.S. was in Vietnam and the U.S.’s ultimate goals.
“Then we’d go back up north,” Johnson explained, “and hook up with a platoon. The North Vietnamese would then take us to the most ideal place to set up an ambush so that we could capture North Vietnamese [soldiers].”
While many men and women were drafted into service during the Vietnam War, Johnson signed up on his own. “In 1967 and ’68,” he said, “the way the country was going, you were either left or right, and pretty much everyone in my neighborhood opted to go join the Marines.”
His family influenced his decision to enlist. His grandfather had been in the Army during World War I, and his father served in the Navy in World War II. His father was very involved in his local American Legion post, and John spent a lot of time there when he was growing up.