Local Air Force veteran fallen on hard times

Soon-to-be commander of American Legion Post 41 Ken Johnson stands at the Evanston cemetery Monday morning prior to a ceremony held there. Although Johnson said he doesn’t complain and lives frugally, the 75-year-old Air Force veteran has a fixed income and has struggled at times to pay his bills and buy groceries. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — As we remember those who’ve given their lives for our country, it’s also important to keep in mind those among us who served in the military and could use a little boost.

Seventy-five-year-old Ken Johnson is one such veteran living in Evanston struggling to pay his bills. Johnson said he is proud of his service in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. From 1963 to 1967, he was stationed at Travis Air Force base in California, where he was an aircraft maintenance worker. His crew was responsible for maintenance of the planes that took troops and supplies to Vietnam. Those same planes returned to the base to unload the injured and dead. 

“I was really gung-ho when I first enlisted,” Johnson said, “but after seeing all the caskets filling half the plane from floor to ceiling and the other half filled with maimed troops returning from combat in Vietnam, it turned me off. When my tour of duty was finished, I didn’t reenlist.”

Johnson said he did a variety of jobs after leaving the Air Force; for the last 10 years before retirement he was a long-distance truck driver. After retirement, he drove a truck for several years in Salt Lake City. He moved to Evanston in 2009 when he wanted to get out of the hustle and bustle of city life. He was born and raised in the Salt Lake valley but wanted a more peaceful and quiet place to live.

Johnson said he is pretty satisfied with the VA medical benefits, though it takes two to three months to get an appointment with the VA in Salt Lake City when he needs medical care. He said he receives social security and a 10-percent disability benefit for his hearing loss. Johnson also receives some rental aid from the Evanston Housing Authority. 

One of the reasons for Johnson’s recent financial struggles is that after he moved here, his vehicle died, and he had to buy another one. The 2005 Dodge Durango costs him $149.00 month in payments and $60 month for insurance. This leaves him very little money for food and other expenses.

“I live frugally and don’t complain,” Johnson said. “Sometimes I go to the food bank but a lot of what they give is not what I usually eat, so I sometimes give it away to someone else in need.”

Johnson is a lifetime member of the VFW, though he said he had to make installments on his paid membership. He is currently vice commander of American Legion Post 41, and in June will be commander. He consistently helps to put flags up around town and at the cemetery on holidays and participates in Memorial Day and Veterans Day ceremonies.

Johnson enjoys throwing darts and bowling, though he can’t always afford those small luxuries.

“On Mondays and Wednesdays, I sub for the bowling leagues,” he said. “I can’t afford to be a regular member but if I sub it doesn’t cost me. I also save money to play darts once a week in the fall and winter months. That is my entertainment in addition to the VFW and American Legion activities.”

Johnson owes $7,000 on his vehicle. A Go Fund Me page to help pay off his car has been set up at https://tinyurl.com/y699qz9s.



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