Ed Johansson celebrates 90th birthday

Ed_Johansson now

There is going to be a party Sunday at First Baptist Church in Bridge City. “A big party,” says Edward Johansson, “At the Welcome Center at the church.”

Johansson turns 90 on July 29. He had raised his family in what used to be a rice field in Bridge City since 1953, but that’s the middle of the story.

He was born and raised in New Orleans. Johansson said his dad died when Ed was 5. His mother went to sea to provide for the family by becoming a Merchant Marine as a stewardess on a passenger ship. His sister ran the household until she died in childbirth at the age of 21. Johansson was 13 at the time and has been on his own ever since.

Johansson spent 39 months in the Coast Guard during World War II.

One day while swimming he saw a P.T. boat and thought that’s what he wanted to do, get assigned to a P.T. boat.  Johansson and four of his friends went to the recruiting center to join the Coast Guard. Out of the five, Johansson was the only one that was accepted.

“Uncle Sam sent me to Sabine during the war and I met my wife of 60 years,” he said. “I met her at the skating rink in Port Arthur. She was a Port Arthur girl.”

He said when her father met him, he told her, “You’re not going to marry a Yankee.” He mistook Johansson’s Louisiana accent for that of someone from the north.

“I went with her every liberty I had,” he said.

They got married when Johansson felt his time at Sabine was over and they were going to send him overseas in the war. “That way, if something happened to me, she’d have the insurance policy.”

He was sent to Baltimore, Md., for diving school and ship repair. He already had paperwork assigning him to a gunnery crew and was going to be shipped out, but the war ended. He spent 39 months in the Coast Guard. “I never saw a PT boat.”

Even though he didn’t get overseas, his mother got action in the war. The ship she was on was torpedoed by a German submarine. She captained one of the life boats and received the War Shipping Administration Combat Bar with one star. Other women had received the combat bar, but hers is believed to be the first one presented with a star.

All her letter said to her sons after the incident was, “I had a little problem.” Her mail was censored because of the war.

Johansson said about two months before that, she sent him a letter saying he didn’t have anything to worry about because they had a gunnery crew on the ship “that’s out of this world. They dropped a crate overboard and got about a mile from it and they blew the crate out of the water.”

When she finally got home, she told him she was torpedoed and was in the lifeboat for almost two days.

“Well mother, what happened to that gunnery crew?” Johansson asked her.  “She said that German captain wasn’t any fool, he waited till the ship got lifted so bad that they couldn’t aim the guns at the sub then he surfaced.”

Thirty-three people were lost on that ship.

About 50 years later the Times Picayune in New Orleans had a picture of her and her story in the paper.

“I had a copy of that but I lost all mine. I had 37 inches of water in this house and I lost a whole bunch of that stuff.”

When Johansson moved to Bridge City, he bought five acres of rice field. He used the dirt in the levies to build up the land where he built his house.  “I planted every one of the trees on this half of the lot,” he said.

He and Llewellyn raised three children, two boys and a girl. “This was a good place to raise kids,” he said.

“We had 60 good years.”

Butch, their oldest, was killed 20 years ago at the age of 33 by a deer.

“That was a blow,” said Johansson. “We got over that and the wife passed away when she was 78. We had good times, a good life together.”

His other son, Alan, lives in Bridge City and works for Air Comfort in Beaumont. Their daughter, Sue, lives in Austin and is a nurse practitioner.  “She’s going to get her doctorate in nursing,” said Johansson. He has seven grandchildren, two girls and five boys and 10 great-grandchildren.

He retired from Firestone in 1984. “It’s been a good retirement. It takes me two days to mow my yard.” He also spends time restoring a travel trailer that got 37 inches of water in it during Hurricane Ike. Johansson also plays dominos about once a week in a floating game between four couples. “Makes time go by.”

Friends and family will gather 2-4 p.m., Sunday at the church Welcome Center to celebrate with Johansson on his 90th birthday.

Photo: Ed Johansson moved to Bridge City in 1953 to raise his family with wife Llewellyn.