No one here knows who Ridley was, and actually, his name was not Ridley. His name was Leslie Hill Johnson,and I have full permission of the family to write about him here. I shall blockquote the funeral announcement in the text.
The name Ridley came about from him, his son, and all of us reading Kipling whilst drinking coffee when his son and I were around 12 years old. He was a WWII and Korean War veteran, and he had tales to tell! Some were better than others. Ridley just came as a joke.
Leslie Hill Johnson, 90, of Hackett died Friday, June 25, 2010, in a local nursing home. He was a 1939 graduate of Hackett High School and a U.S. Army veteran of World War II, served in the Army Air Corps, retiring from the U.S. Air Force in 1961. He was the widower of Mary Elizabeth Yadon and Wilda Martel Williamson.
Memorial service will be 2 p.m. today at Hackett United Methodist Church in Hackett with burial at noon today at the U.S. National Cemetery in Fort Smith under the direction of Ocker Funeral Home in Van Buren.
He is survived by three daughters, Ellen Allen of Bella Vista and Robin Hughes and Leslie Johnson, both of Hackett; two sons, Todd Johnson of Van Buren and Walter Johnson of Highland Ranch, Colo.; seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Honorary pallbearers will be David Hughes, Michael Hughes, Xander Johnson, Parker Johnson, Zachary Johnson and Andrew Johnson.
His son and I were always friends, and my friend liked my parents very much. Rex (his real, middle name, and the one that I still use for that dear friend) would often come to our house on Sunday afternoon to eat “dinner”, actually what is really lunch, in the south. My mum would usually cook fried chicken, biscuits, gravy, and green beans for lunch after church. Other times it would be roast beef, with potatoes and onions in the braising pan. Rex and I were very close, and, although time and distance are enemies of friendship, we are still friends, just not as close as we were decades ago. We both were in the same Boy Scout patrol.
Rex and I used to ride the bicycles from my place to his, only a couple of miles. Later we drove cars, but I had a bond with Ridley that, I believe, no one else had. My granddad had introduced me to cigarettes, and my grandmum (other side) to coffee, so it was a good match for Ridley and me.
We would drink coffee and eat English muffins for hours as I listened to his war stories. Later on, we would share Camel cigarettes whilst we chewed on his old fat about the war. He never gave me any tobacco, but he always gave me stories, coffee, and muffins, and I think that he was honest with all of them.
Rex left a voicemail Friday telling me that his father had died, and my wonderful aunt did so as well. I have not called either of them back, because the emotions are too harsh. I loved Ridley as a father, and I feel like an orphan again, since my real dad died several years ago. He loved me as a son, and that just makes it worse. Perhaps Rex will allow some of my words to be read at his memorial service. I could not possibly read them myself, because I broke down and was unable to say anything except sobbing at both my father’s and my mother’s funeral.
Here is what I would say about Ridley:
You were a second father to me. You and my mother were almost exactly the same age, and both of you were friends from childhood. I became a surrogate son of yours, and still feel the loss of a father figure now. Your son was one of my best friends, and we still keep in touch even now, but not as often as either of us would like.
I remember burning brush piles with you, and watching the possums run out of the dead cattle around which the brush piles were often built. I remember the English muffins, the butter, the coffee, and the cigarettes. You spent more time with me, often, than my biological father did.
For these things, I love you.
You also loved the former Mrs. Translator in a chaste manner. She is the most wonderful person ever, and you recognized that. No one can equal her, and she still lives. You knew very early that she was not an ordinary person.
Ridley, my substitute father, I love you and wish you nothing but endless, wonderful relief. I will always remember that you were nothing except but a man of honor. You were not only a gentleman, you were a second father. I love you, and commit your soul to a better place.
I am crying now, because I just lost one of my best friends.
Ridley was laid to rest at 90 years of age in the National Cemetery in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Thursday, 20100701, with full military honors. He deserved them. He was a patriot, a soldier, and an intelligence operative. He told me that he had stories that he would have loved to have shared, but his agreement with the government when he took a Top Secret clearance would not allow all of his stories to be told.
The ones that he COULD tell were extremely interesting. He was sort of a model maker. At the time, there were no computers other than the ones that generated artillery shell angles (ENIAC, if anyone remembers how we now have personal computers). He analyzed U-2 photos and constructed models of the cities for the Pentagon.
He also flew in a strategic wing in the Air Force during the Cold War. Their target was Valdovistoc, on the west coast of the, at the time, Soviet Union. If you have ever seen Dr. Srangelove, you know what I mean. He was one of the folks in the big planes.
He was in the Army Air Corps until the new law separated the Air Force from it. He has two sets of uniforms, one green Army with his sergeant stripes with a point on the top, and the blue Air Force one with his stripes on the bottom.
Folks, this person saved your ass! Without people like him, we likely would be speaking German or Russian today, or, actually not even draw a breath. I am sure that many of you have relatives, or ancestors, who served in World War II. They are to be honored.
Now, let us remember some to the funny stuff that he and I did. He was an extremely strong man, not a very large man, but perhaps the strongest man for his size that I have ever met, other than my grandfather.
He had a gift for gab that few others ever will find. He used to tell me about some such, like the one about the dog that got in a pinch, and used his hands, arms, and mouth to simulate the action of the dog. There is no way that I can describe that, except to say that he got the arms and hands right to simulate how a hurt dog runs, and his mouth to simulate its cries. He was not abusing the dog, but just describing how it acted.
I have mentioned this already, but should do so again. He and I drank coffee to an insane level, and ate English muffins, dripping with butter, the same time. By that time I was smoking cigarettes, and he always loved his Camels. I changed from Marlboro to Camel then, and have smoked nonfiltered ones to this day. Ridley quit smoking a couple of decades ago, and that probably contributed to him living to be 90 years old. I now just roll Prince Albert ones, and he did, too, and taught me to roll a cigarette without a hump in it. Our joke was that a Camel had a hump in its back.
Rex and I often went out with him to town to get supplies for the cattle (Ridley always called them his chine), and we would help him feed them. The same for the hay for them. I remember fondly the Massey-Ferguson tractor (a 135, if I remember correctly) that Rex and I used to help him farm. Those were very good days.
I could go on for hours and thousands of words about my surrogate father, but I think that you have the idea. If you could not tell, I loved that man, and he loved me, and the former Mrs. Translator as if we were from his own genes.
My mum loved him, as well, in sort of a sibling way, although they were not related by blood. I had the privilege to know Ridley’s mum and dad, as well. Even though I was a preteen, I met and got to know them very well. I love those folks, and can not say anything except I have nothing but my best wishes for that entire family.
This is my tribute for one of the best friends that I ever had.
Crossposted at Dailykos.com