Peace but sadness...

Orvel E. Johnson  3/12/1924 - 4/4/2015

My hero died two weeks ago.  Now he is with my Mom who died twenty years ago.  They created a loving family that mourns his loss but celebrates his 91 years of life.

My Dad wasn't a big man in stature but everything else about him was immense.  He was a gymnast in high school and did the artwork for his yearbook.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he wanted to enlist.  But he was only 17 so he had to wait until he was 18 and then enlisted in the Marines.

He was a soldier who talked about his experiences in WWII.  The death of his friends were on his mind during the day and kept him awake at night.  His bravery and wounds earned him a Purple Heart.  Some of his WWII stories are online at:

Today the Purple Heart is perhaps, the most unique of all United States military awards.  Though low in the order of precedence on the Pyramid of Honor (it ranks below the Bronze star), it is one of the most widely recognized and respected medals.  It can not be earned by courage or by exceptional service or achievement.   The Purple Heart signifies one thing...SACRIFICE.  Whenever you see the Purple Heart, know that it represents either a combat death or a combat wound.  It represents the blood that has been shed in defense of liberty.

The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States to any member of an Armed force who, while serving with the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded.  A wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer.

  1. For wounds or death sustained in action against an enemy of the United States;
  2. While serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party;
  3. As a result of an act of any such enemy of opposing armed forces;
  4. As the result of an act of any hostile foreign force;
  5. After 28 March 1973, as a result of an international terrorist attack against the United States by a foreign nation friendly to the United States, recognized as such an attack by the Secretary
    1. In any action with an opposing armed force of a foreign country in which the Armed Forces of the United States are or have been engaged;
    of the department concerned, or jointly by Secretaries of the departments concerned if persons from more than one department are wounded in the attack; or
  6. After 28 March 1973, as a result of military operations, while serving outside the territory of the United States as part of a peacekeeping force.
  7. After 7 December 1941, by weapon fire while directly engaged in armed conflict, regardless of the fire causing the wound (friendly fire).

While held as a prisoner of war or while being taken captive. 

Dad was a proud member of the Sons of Norway, the Masons, the VFW and American Legion.  He requested that the American Legion be present at his funeral to present the Honor Guard.  His casket was draped with the American flag and carried by three of his great grand daughters, a great grandson and two grandsons.  After the service  three rifle volleys were fired, taps were played, the flag was folded and three spent casings placed within the flag representing the three volleys.   

As the oldest child, I was given the American flag: "On behalf of the President of the United States, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for Orvel's service to Country and Corps."
At military funerals, one often sees three volleys of shots fired in honor of the deceased veteran. This is often mistaken by the laymen as a 21-gun salute, although it is entirely different (in the military, a "gun" is a large-calibered weapon. The three volleys are fired from "rifles," not "guns." Therefore, the three volleys isn't any kind of "gun salute," at all).
Anyone who is entitled to a military funeral (generally anyone who dies on active duty, honorably discharged veterans, and military retirees) are to the three rifle volleys, subject to availability of honor guard teams. As I said, this is not a 21-gun salute, nor any other type of "gun salute." They are simply three rifle volleys fired. The firing team can consist of any number, but one usually sees a team of eight, with a noncommissioned officer in charge of the firing detail. Whether the team consists of three or eight, or ten, each member fires three times (three volleys).
The three volleys comes from an old battlefield custom. The two warring sides would cease hostilities to clear their dead from the battlefield, and the firing of three volleys meant that the dead had been properly cared for and the side was ready to resume the battle.
The flag detail often slips three shell-casings into the folded flag before presenting the flag to the family. Each casing represents one volley. United States flag drapes the casket of deceased veterans to honor the memory of their service to America. The flag is placed so that the blue field with stars is at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased.

After Taps has been played, the flag is carefully folded into the symbolic tri-cornered shape. A properly proportioned flag will fold 13 times on the triangles, representing the 13 original colonies. The folded flag is emblematic of the tri-cornered hat worn by the Patriots of the American Revolution. When folded, no red or white stripe is to be evident, leaving only the blue field with stars.

The folded flag is then presented as a keepsake to the next of kin or an appropriate family member. Each branch of the Armed Forces uses its own wording for the presentation ...After an American flag has been used for a Military or Veterans funeral, it should never be flown again or displayed in any other way than in the tri-fold shape in which it was presented to the next of kin. In other words, the folded flag should never be "opened" again. There are many appropriate display cases available for purchase to display the burial flag and to protect it from wear and fading.

While his life was so much more than his war experience, it framed the rest of his life.  Using the GI Bill, he went to business school.  He excelled in his career because of this training and determination to provide for his family.

I write this to share our experience and to remember the day that we celebrated his life.  We will miss him forever but the memories we made and his love for us will be in our hearts forever.  I am at peace because he is at peace.

Semper Fi...always faithful.  

His loving daughter,