Local Veterans Share Their Stories Of Service

Men and women who served in the military will be honored for their service on Monday, November 11, 2019, as the nation observes Veterans Day.

Two local veterans, Lucille Leffall and Robert Johansen shared their stories of heroism and service with the Baltimore Times.

During World War II, Leffall, 94, recalled how she had to gain weight to enlist in the Women's Army Corps.

Stationed in San Diego, Leffall did the critical work of working in fingerprinting at the embarkation center. She also worked in logistics and supplies.

"Just because you are a woman in the military doesn't mean you do easy jobs," she said about one of her duties that required her to move heavy bags.

She joined the Army Air Force before the Air Force separated into its own military branch. It was a time when the military was segregated.

"The two never interacted," she said about the units of black and white service members.

After her military service ended, she moved to the East Coast, where she told local VA officials a place she always wanted to be.

"I got married to a man from North Carolina, so we moved there. But I didn't like North Carolina much, and others recommended Baltimore, so we moved to Baltimore," she said.

Leffall has kept busy doing volunteer work and sitting on the board of the co-op building in which she lives.

"As long as God allows me to move, I'm going to keep moving," Lefall said.

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Robert Johansen

For Johansen, 58, Veterans Day is an opportunity to renew the camaraderie shared with servicemen and women everywhere.

"Veterans Day means I get to honor and respect all soldiers from the past and present. I believe it's just an honor to pay tribute to the soldiers who died for freedom," said Johansen, who spent six years in the Army as a member of the storied 82nd Airborne.

During his training to handle and shoot down missiles, Johansen says his unit shot down drones— long before drones became ubiquitous.

Because of all the training he received, Johansen says he was never afraid to be a paratrooper and jump out of airplanes, though he did say that they were like "leaves in the wind" after the jump.

"First and foremost, jumping out of a perfectly good airplane is for fun and excitement. It's impulsive. My thinking was that I'm not just going to sit there and wait for the enemy to come to me. I'm going to them," Johansen said. "If I'm jumping out of a plane and go behind enemy lines, I've got to seize the moment."

However, Johansen recalled one jump that didn't go so well but had a funny ending.

"I got stuck in a tree. And, there I was dangling about 20 feet in the air, and the guys below saw me up there, and I was like, 'Guys, can you get me down.' They left me up there, and it's like 3 a.m. I took my shoes off and had to cut myself down."

Johansen also had to pay $110 to the military because he damaged government property. "I had to pay for that parachute," he said, laughing.

Johansen noted that he's looking forward to Veterans Day as he does each year.

"We have a flag ceremony and other observances. It's always fun. I just appreciate all of my [fellow] soldiers," he said.