SENECA – Ramond Johnson, 92, of Joliet returned Wednesday to Seneca to meet the students of Seneca High School and take part in their annual Veterans Day program.
Johnson went to Seneca the first time in 1943 when he boarded LST 218, one of the 157 ships built during World War II at the Seneca Shipyards.
“At 18 years old, I graduated high school in May 1941,” Johnson told those gathered to honor veterans. “I was about to be drafted in the U.S. Army the following year. Instead, I decided to join the Navy.”
He went on to say he joined the Navy because it offered a place to sleep, three meals a day and a shower, and the Army didn’t offer that.
Johnson was trained and served as a signal man. He explained how ships signaled each other with lights during his three years on board the LST 218.
The program is hosted by the Seneca FFA each year and is held during the school day so students can attend and give honor to those who have served from the area, as well as honor those currently serving.
“We do this so our kids are exposed to veterans – actual people,” said Jeff Maierhofer, Seneca FFA adviser and agriculture teacher.
He said often students have only seen veterans on television and that isn’t the same as hearing them speak and meeting them in person.
Mazon American Legion Post 352 Cmdr. James Sterba, a Navy veteran, said hosting the Veterans Day event at the high school is a great teaching tool for the kids to recognize veterans in their own community who have served.
“We were all combat-ready and ready to go wherever we were sent,” Sterba said. “We need people to serve in the armed forces and this allows kids to learn about what it means to be a veteran.”
The event also honored current military and had members of the Illinois National Guard, who serve at the Marseilles Training Center, present.
Staff Sgt. Hayley Clayton, a recruiter with the Illinois National Guard, said the school and the community as a whole are supportive of the National Guard and in return the National Guard is there to support them.
“We are here to support the school for anything they do with veterans,” Clayton said. “This is an awesome event, this community specifically is so supportive of us.”
Students and community members who attended the event also heard from Steve Koeppenhoefer, who shared about his service in Vietnam, and music was presented by the Seneca band and choir. Seneca FFA members narrated the event.