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Bob Lind, Published November 09 2013

Neighbors: War didn't stop area couple's love

It was the best of times and the worst of times for LaVerne Johnson; best because she was enjoying her 2-month-old baby girl, and worst because she received a telegram saying her husband had been wounded in action in Europe.

There are many stories out there this Veterans Day weekend about war veterans and their families. This is one of them.

Terrible battle

Floyd M. Johnson, a native of Harwood, N.D., a 1936 graduate of Argusville (N.D.) High School and a 1938 graduate of Dakota Business College, Fargo, enlisted in the Army in the early 1940s. His wife, LaVerne, was with him while he was stationed in Colorado and Texas.

In 1944, Floyd was sent to Europe. He was serving with a unit in the Holland area in December when Hitler launched a surprise attack on Allied forces that became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

It became the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II; 19,000 Americans were killed. Another 70,000 were wounded. One of them was Floyd.

A rifle shot went through his helmet into his head. He survived but his left side was paralyzed, and he had seizure after seizure.

Going to his side

LaVerne, with her and Floyd’s baby Vicki Rae, was staying with Floyd’s cousin in Fargo when she received word about Floyd’s injury. She and Vicki later stayed with LaVerne’s parents, Olof and Emma Froysland, on their Audubon, Minn., farm.

Then LaVerne learned Floyd was being returned to the U.S., where he’d be sent to a Veterans Administration hospital in Brigham City, Utah. LaVerne’s parents urged her to go to him, and said they’d take care of Vicki. So LaVerne took a bus to Utah and stayed there for six weeks.

Back home, LaVerne says, “my parents and my brother, Merle, had fallen in love with the black-haired, brown-eyed bundle of charm” that was Vicki, so caring for her wasn’t a problem at all.

At the hospital, it was found Floyd’s motor nerve was healing, but it would be a long process. But with the encouraging news he was on the mend, LaVerne returned home to take up being a mom again.

Floyd, meanwhile, went into rigorous therapy and eventually could move around. However, he developed a drop foot that required a leg brace, and he could only walk with a cane.

The hospital then let him take a quick trip home by train. And for the first time, he saw his 6-month-old daughter.

An active life

Floyd returned to the hospital for more therapy and ambulatory training. Finally, he was discharged as a first lieutenant in June 1945, and he and his family settled in Fargo.

“He had side effects from his injury all of his adult life,” LaVerne says. “But he never let anything deter him from his involvement with his family, community and church.”

Floyd held many positions over the years. Among them: stewardship director for the Lutheran Free Church; president of the board of trustees of Oak Grove Lutheran High School, Fargo; president of Fargo’s Lyric Male Chorus; part owner and vice president of the Fargo Linoleum Co.; executive assistant to the bishop of the Eastern North Dakota District of the American Lutheran Church.

He did all this despite dealing with the effects of his war injury, plus a 10-year battle with cancer that led to five surgeries.

Floyd died at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Fargo, at age 85, in 2003. “We had a long goodbye,” his wife says, “and we had no regrets to deal with.”

He left behind LaVerne, Fargo, and their three children: Vicki, who is married to Richard Gunness, Fargo; Mark, Mount Vernon, Wash.; and David, Fargo; and 18 grandchildren.

And so, LaVerne writes, “I have this memory of a husband and father who had the courage and fortitude to cast aside the discomfort he had to raise a family and to become deeply involved in community and church. Blessed be the name of Floyd Johnson of the U.S. Army.”

To which can be added the names of all veterans of wars, past and present.

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or email blind@forumcomm.com