Larry Johnson, a 25-year Golden Valley resident, has known since 2003, when the U.S. invaded Iraq, that he would one day write a book about his outlook on war and veteran care.
His book, “Sixty-one,” was released Nov. 16, 2016.
“It’s about less war, more walking, fewer veterans, no more arguing about care for veterans and exposure to chemical toxins,” Johnson said. “For me that is unconscionable.”
The 61 stories in the book “reflect a lifelong search for stories hidden by culture bent on promoting war as good.”
Johnson has witnessed and experienced the effects of war on civilians and on veterans.
In 1970, he was drafted to the United States Army.
“I always say my college acceptance letter and draft notice arrived in the same day, that’s what it felt like,” he said.
He served as a “conscientious objector,” a medic without a weapon.
“I was not willing to deliberately take life but would help vets get back home,” he said.
Johnson spent 16 months stationed in Germany. He was told several times that he would go, but never did go, to Vietnam.
The military officials admitted there were too many soldiers overseas at the time and offered early release. Johnson took advantage and went home five months before his two-year contract expired.
Upon returning home, Johnson witnessed a lack of care for countless veterans who were suffering with mental illnesses and exposure to chemical toxins such as Agent Orange.
Many veterans he knows endure lifelong side effects due to the exposure. For some veterans, the chemical exposure can cause early death, such was the case for 36-year old Amie Muller, of Woodbury. Muller died Feb. 18 after battling pancreatic cancer. Her husband told other news sources her cancer was likely caused by her exposure to toxins while working next to a burn pit in Iraq.
“The name of the toxin is different but it’s the same effect,” Johnson said. “They shouldn’t have been around those things in the first place.”
Johnson is thankful each day that he was not affected by Agent Orange.
“It just breaks my heart every time I see it,” he said.
Civilians also suffer from the effects of war. According to a June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, approximately 90 percent of all deaths in war are those of civilians.
Johnson wants an end to the violence, to the exposure to toxins and to lives negatively impacted by war.
To emphasize this point, he walked 61 miles at age of 61, raising money and awareness for adequate veteran care and peace making. Last October, at age 70, he walked 70 miles to raise awareness of similar efforts, with an additional emphasis on wind and solar energy versus nuclear energy.
After his military service, Johnson held several titles but the title of storyteller was his favorite.
Johnson previously taught the art of storytelling and video making in Minneapolis Public Schools. Today, he is occasionally invited in to schools to tell his stories.
Now that his book is released, Johnson hopes to be invited to speak in churches.
Whether others agree or disagree with his perspective is irrelevant, he said, but encouraging people to think is what is most important.
Johnson’s book can be purchased at shipwrecktbooks.com.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]
World Storytelling Day
Johnson will be one of four featured speakers at this year’s World Storytelling Day 6-9 p.m. Tuesday, March 21, at the Landmark Center, 75 West Fifth Street, St. Paul.
The event is free to attend and open to the public.
To register, contact Johnson at 612-747-3904 or [email protected]