|Biography of, Juan (Johnny) Granados
This biography was written from the memories of Johnny’s early life by
his younger brother, Tony, and as Johnny himself recalled of his later
life which he dictated to Tony on July 30, 2004
Johnny’s full name is Juan Nepomuceno Granados, Rey. He was named
after his great uncle, a priest in Aracena, Spain. He is best known as
"Uncle Johnny" or just "Johnny;" which is what we will use in this
Johnny was born on April 7, 1918. A precocious child, he was his own
man by the time he was walking; or maybe even a little before that.
Regardless of his age, when Johnny wanted to do something, there was
no stopping him. Sometimes this resulted in a few bumps and bruises,
like the time, as a toddler, he was rampaging around on the front
porch in his walker. He was supposed to be learning to walk, but he
was actually learning to fly. He got a running start on the porch one
day and went airborne over the 8 porch steps and made a hard landing
on the ground breaking the walker. Of course, he sustained a bump or
two but, as usual, he shook it off and was ready to try again. Our
mother had to hide the walker to save his life. She decided to finish
teaching him to walk but under more control.
About 8 years later, he had developed such a pesky reputation as a
mischievous child that there were multiple complaints from the
neighbors about him almost every week or so. My mother became so tired
of neighbors complaining that she decided to chain Johnny to the leg
of a large, heavy table while she did her housework. Today, she could
go to jail for that kind of child restraint but she was at her wit’s
end and this was the best she could do to allow her to fulfill the
daily needs of her husband and seven other children.
There came a day when a neighbor again turned up at the front door and
started to complain about Johnny. When she went through her litany of
his devious activities, my mother smiled and said with great
confidence that it could not have been him, because he had not been
out of the house The neighbor said that she was sure it was him. My
mother invited her in to see that he was chained to the table. When
they went into the living room, the chain was there but Johnny wasn’t.
He had gotten free, sneaked out of the house and went about
challenging the neighborhood in retribution for past interruptions of
As Johnny grew to his pre-teen years, he became very muscular, street
smart and fleet of foot. Nobody anywhere near his age could outrun
him. He was never caught when appropriating something he wanted that
didn’t belong to him. As an example, with Johnny as our leader, two
other boys and I were silently stealing some worthless, but
interesting junk, from a neighbor’s barn. Hearing us, the barn’s owner
sneaked up, and made a dash with loud curses to catch us. Fortunately,
he singled out Johnny to catch because he was the biggest kid in the
group. Going after Johnny was a profound mistake on the chaser’s part.
Johnny was always very fast but when somebody was chasing him, he ran
like a deer. The chaser gave up and came back huffing and puffing to
the barn. The rest of us were hiding nearby to make sure Johnny was
not caught. The raid netted us absolutely nothing but some vigorous
exercise and a few nervous laughs.
When about 13, Johnny decided that he needed a bike. Buying a bike,
even a used one, was totally out of the question. All the money that
anybody had in our house went to buy food. After deciding he needed a
bike, Johnny devised a plan to make one. He first "found" a bike
frame. We never asked where. Soon after, he got other bike parts, one
at a time, until in a month or two, he had put together a complete
bike. I have a feeling that there were a lot of bikes in our area from
which various parts were mysteriously missing. At least he was
thoughtful enough to spread his acquisitions around so that no one
suffered too badly. As he had correctly predicted, when the parts were
incorporated into a whole bike, there was no way a particular part
could be identified.
Johnny was always the first to do the most dangerous stunts feats and
dares. When we went to the river to swim, he would be the first to
dive off the highest bank or tree, swim in the dirtiest water to show
off and stay under water the longest. Actually, where we went swimming
every day in the summer was a sewer run-off. Raw sewage would be piped
from local houses into creeks, which flowed into the river in which we
swam. In some places, a little farther down stream where we would
normally not swim, it was so bad that we could walk knee-deep in the
diluted sewage that had settled to the bottom. But we were never
deterred and continued to swim every day a little up-stream from “the
bad stuff.” Of course, there were times when we inadvertently
swallowed water while we were swimming, playing or horsing around in
the water but we thought nothing of it. On the theory that getting a
little bit of a disease keeps one from getting the full blown disease,
my guess is that we were orally inoculated for every disease that you
can possibly get from swimming four hours everyday in concentrated
Did we ever get sick? We probably did, but we never connected
it with our swimming. Whenever we felt logy, we’d just sit it out for
a day or two until we got better. We never complained to our father
for fear that he would make us drink a big glass of Epson Salts to
clean us out. Epsom Salts would give us a roaring case of diarrhea and
terrible stomach cramps that seemed much worse than any sickness.
Incidentally, my father never knew about the sewage situation and only
a few parents in our area let their kids swim in that "river." As
kids, we could never understand why.
One day when Johnny was climbing a tree alone, he slipped and a
pointed part of a dried branch near the trunk pierced the front of his
leg. He limped home and treated the puncture himself. The wound soon
became infected to the point where he had to go to a doctor. We
seldom, if ever, went to doctors in those days. Usually, the doctor
would come to the home and that would be when you either broke a bone
on had some life-threatening illness. Everybody knew the doctor’s car
and when it was parked in front of someone’s home; it became an
immediate topic of concerned gossip. I think Johnny rode his bike to
the doctor’s because it was a few miles away. The doctor treated him
with iodine and some other nostrums, which must have worked because he
was soon back to his old self. Blood poisoning (sepsis) was fairly
common in those days because of the lack of antibiotics. Even "lock
jaw" could be contracted if one happened to get a cut or stepped on a
rusty nail when visiting a barnyard. Because we always went
bare-footed during the summer, stepping on a nail or being cut by
broken glass was not uncommon. So common in fact that, when we saw
some kid limping, we guessed that he had stepped on a nail, and we
were usually right.
One dark night Johnny, two other boys and I were walking down
Edmonston Road about a mile from home. It was close to 9:o’clock,
which was pretty late for us to be out. I must have been about 8 or 9
years old at the time, and Johnny 11 or 12. One of the boys had stolen
a pack of cigarettes and began passing them around. We all took one
and lit up. Smoking a real, completely unbroken, and un-smoked
cigarette was a major "man thing" to do. Most of the time, when we
wanted to show our machismo smoking ability, we simply looked around
until we found a butt on the ground. We’d pick it up and light up. We
called them O.P’s., "Other Peoples." I still wonder why we never got a
disease from this terrible habit. We had no sooner lit our cigarettes
and taken a few puffs when a large shadow shot across the dark road
and grabbed both Johnny and me by the nape of the neck. A flood of
angry Spanish words ensued. It was my father. He had appeared out of
nowhere. Actually he and Beano were out looking for us because it was
late and we were not home. Johnny quickly put his cigarette out and
threw it away. He was the one with the street smarts. I was so shaken
that I just threw mine down without putting it out. The red glow was
quite visible in the dark. In Spanish, my father said, "pick it up,"
which I did. Then he said, "put it out," which I did. Then he added,
"don’t drop it." And I didn’t.
When we got home, my father sat me on a chair in the kitchen and told
Beano to get me a glass of water. Then he said, "Eat the cigarette." I
didn’t think he really meant it, but he repeated it with a bit more
emphasis, "Eat the cigarette!" So, I ate it and washed it down with
the water. That was bad enough, but the worst was yet to come. He made
me go down into the cellar because I was not fit to be with decent
people. The cellar was dark, and at eight years old, I knew that there
were things down there like the Shadow, Frankenstein, Dracula, and
other horrors waiting to grab a “bad boy” like me. After about a
half-hour of crying, yelling and pleading, my father relented and let
me come up out of the cellar.
The ordeal was not over. He sent me to
sleep in the same single bed with Johnny. This was almost worse than
being in the cellar because I knew Johnny would tease the life out of
me. Besides, I had a bad case of poison ivy (to which Johnny was
immune, of course) and itched all over. It was a horrible night. The
bottom line is that to this day, some 75 years later, I have never
smoked another cigarette. If I even thought about smoking, I would
remember how my father literally appeared out of nowhere and caught
me. That did the abstinence trick for me until I grew old enough to
realize that smoking was not something I wanted to do.
There was a game we used to play called "Pocketbook." This involved
putting an old wallet into the middle of Edmonston Road, a two-lane,
concrete road about a mile from our home. Some green paper and a few
Chinese coins would be sticking out of the wallet so that it looked
like a real wallet with money in it that had fallen from a car or
buggy. After putting it in the road, we hid in the bushes along side
of the road to watch the fun. This was in the country where there were
very few cars.
When a car came by, it would invariably run over the wallet and then
slam on the brakes. When the driver took his foot off of the
accelerator to put on the brakes to stop, Johnny, the fast one, would
run out, get the wallet and run back into the bushes. Most of the
time, the driver would back up and then go back and forth where he
thought he saw the wallet. Sometimes he would get out of the car and
look around to make sure he saw what he thought he saw. Finally he
would give up and drive away thinking that he (women didn’t drive in
those days) had been seeing things. When he drove away, that’s when we
all broke out into peals of knee-slapping laughter.
One of the cars that came by one evening was full of 20-year old
toughs. They were part of a “the Fleshman gang.” They delivered ice to
the area homes for Mr. Fleshman, the iceman. (Refrigerators had not
been invented then.) When they slammed on the brakes and tumbled out
of the car, they were serious about getting that wallet and the money.
Johnny ran out, grabbed the wallet and ran back into the bushes.
Unfortunately, they saw him and went running after him. Johnny then
took off like a gazelle and was making headway until they spread out,
surrounded him and caught him. We kept telling them that it was a joke
and that it was not a real wallet. Johnny showed them the wallet with
the Chinese coins and kept telling them that neither the wallet nor
the money was real. Finally, they let us all go and returned to their
car laughing, punching arms and agreeing that it was a good joke.
When he was about 14, Johnny had an early morning paper route. The
subscriber’s homes were pretty far apart up in the hills and it took a
fair amount of time to serve them. This was especially irksome in the
wintertime. Our older brother Ramon had just bought a new, black, Ford
sedan. He was working at a Gulf gas station at the time and kept his
car in perfect condition both inside and out. On cold mornings, when
Johnny had to deliver his papers, ‘borrowing” Ramon’s car was a daily
temptation. Johnny finally succumbed, and after "borrowing" Ramon’s
keys, he would push the car backwards out of our driveway and turn it
so it was headed down the road. (I said Johnny was strong.) After
pushing it a little further, he got in, started it and went about
delivering his papers in Ramon’s most prized possession. Coming back,
he’d speed up the car, cut the engine and glide silently into our
driveway after making a harrowing ninety degree turn to avoid hitting
a utility pole that was right next to the entrance of our driveway.
This went on for some time. Ramon used to brag about how well his car
ran, and he was especially proud of the way it started immediately on
cold mornings. He didn’t know that Johnny had just driven it about 10
There came a day when Ramon had to leave for work a little earlier
than usual. It was an especially cold morning and when he went to get
into his car he unconsciously put his hand on the hood. It was warm.
He opened the hood and the engine was warm. He didn’t need an
explanation; he guessed the answer right away. The next morning, he
got up early and watched while Johnny started pushing the car out of
the driveway. Ramon ran outside and interrupted his “car-stealing” so
that Johnny had to go back to delivering papers on his bike.
When he was fifteen, in his sophomore year at High School, our father,
for reasons known best to him, took Johnny out of school and put him
into St. Mary’s School for Boys in Baltimore. Our mother had died two
years before and since our father was away all day teaching at his
Spanish school in Washington, he decided this was the only way to keep
Johnny under control. St. Mary’s was a school for juvenile delinquents
operated by an order of religious brothers. Many of its “inmates” had
committed crimes like grand larceny, attempted murder, and so forth.
They were not promising Eagle Scout material. Although Johnny may have
been a "bad boy" as perceived in those days, he was certainly no
criminal. Obviously unhappy there, he soon broke out and came home.
Our father took him back where they beat the heck out of him for
breaking out…they called it “Leaving without permission.” After a few
more months, he escaped again, made his way home and begged his father
not to send him back. Fortunately, our oldest brother, Luis,
intervened and convinced our father that he shouldn’t send Johnny
At that time, Luis owned a cleaning and pressing shop in Riverdale. He
hired Johnny to work for him since Johnny had leaned a little bit
about the tailoring trade while at St. Mary’s.
After Johnny worked for our brother a short while, our father
persuaded the Lerber brothers, two Spanish friends, to give Johnny a
job at one of their two restaurants. The Lerber’s agreed to let Johnny
work in their bakery. They said they would have liked to have put him
in the restaurant but, although he was legally old enough to work,
they would be criticized for not giving the job to an older person
with possibly a wife and kids to feed. This was during the Great
Depression and everybody was desperate to get work. In those days, a
$ 30.00 a week, with a family, would be considered very well off.
A year or so earlier, our father had taught Johnny how to open
oysters, so when the restaurant needed someone to open oysters,
Johnny got the job. He did so well that they put a small stall in the
front window of the restaurant where the public could watch him open
oysters. Many of the same people would stop by every day to watch him.
It was good publicity for the restaurant and a much needed boost to
One night Johnny missed his bus to East Riverdale and had to take a
streetcar to West Riverdale. This meant he had to walk about 2 miles
home. Because there were no sidewalks, he walked alongside the road.
It was late, dark and there were no streetlights. For some unknown
reason, a car went out of its way to clip Johnny. The driver sped
away. Johnny got up, pulled himself together and continued his walk
home. He had cuts, bruises and cinders embedded in his face from
hitting the road. His clothes were ruined. After all these years, he
still has a few cinders embedded around his temple from that
In 1936, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran against Alf Landon for the
Presidency, our father, normally a Democrat, decided that Landon would
be elected. He convinced Johnny and the rest of us that this was
really going to happen. He was so convincing that Johnny made a
disastrous wager with one of the other restaurant cooks. If Roosevelt
won, Johnny would push his colleague in a wheelbarrow down
Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol building to the White House, a
distanced of about 3 miles. If Alf Landon won, Johnny would get the
ride. Additionally, whoever rode in the wheelbarrow would sound a
god-awful claxon horn during the ride. The day after the election, the
Washington Post ran a picture of Johnny pushing his friend in a
wheelbarrow from the Capitol to the White House.
Our father was normally very astute politically and a great believer
in the new "science" of poll taking. The Literary Digest poll that had
so impressed our father was based on replies from people they called
on the telephone. Unfortunately for both Johnny and the Literary
Digest, most Americans at that time couldn’t afford telephones but
they could vote. That skewed the predictions in favor of Landon. The
very prestigious Literary Digest went out of business soon afterwards.
In the spring of 1938, after our father died, Johnny and I went to
with our older brother Ramon and his wife Kitty. Johnny was working in
the restaurant and was finally able to afford a motorcycle; something
he had wanted for years. He used it to go to work because he had no
problem parking and it was much cheaper than a new car. I think it was
a new Harley.
Once, when he and his friends were hanging out at the corner of
Riverdale and Edmonston Roads, A friend, Eddie Linheart, asked for a
ride on Johnny’s new motorcycle. Johnny agreed and they started north
on Edmonston Road. There were very few cars on the road in those days
and after riding 2 or 3 miles on Edmonston Road, there were none at
all. The reason for this is that Edmonston Road, a 2-lane, concrete
highway built by chain-gang prisoners, went nowhere. It abruptly ended
in the woods about 4 or 5 miles away. Five years later, the federal
government built the city of Greenbelt where that road ended. Now,
Greenbelt is also the home of NASA.
With Eddie Linheart on the back seat, Johnny went for a fast ride out
on this dark and lonely road. About a quarter-mile from the road’s
end, Johnny approached a car traveling in their same direction. He
slowed down a little and prepared to pass, but as he approached, the
driver suddenly decided to make a quick "U’ turn. Johnny hit him
broadside. Eddie Linheart was thrown over the car and landed on the
concrete with minor scratches. Johnny held on to the handlebars and
stayed with the motorcycle. The car’s driver was drunk and went his
way. The motorcycle was damaged but still operating, so Johnny got
back on, and with Eddie on the back, they returned to the corner. By
the time they got there, Johnny was complaining that his back was
hurting badly. He called our older brother Ramon and told him what had
happened. Ramon immediately took Johnny to the hospital where X-rays
indicated that his back was broken in two places. He spent that summer
in a full-torso, plaster of Paris cast, which must have weighed about
If you can picture summers in the Washington, D.C. suburban area in
1938, when there was no air conditioning, you can imagine how that
cast, padded with raw cotton, felt. Sweating would wet the cotton and
make the skin inside itch to the point where at one time I thought
Johnny was going to rip the cast off.
He finally made himself a back-scratcher and relieved the itching as
best he could by slipping it down his back inside the cast. When he
scratched his back with his homemade scratcher, it not only felt good
but a blissful, beatific smile of relief would spread over his face.
Johnny and I spent most of that summer with our friends playing
Monopoly, the big new game in 1937 and ‘38. When the cast finally came
off, Johnny was back to work, riding his motorcycle none the worse for
wear. The doctor told him that if he ever broke his back again, it
would never be where it had just knitted because that break was now
his back’s strongest spot. After his back healed, Johnny moved from
Ramon and Kitty’s to an apartment in Washington with a couple of
After I graduated from High School, I got a job as a laborer with my
sister Rosario’s husband, Whitie. I moved into Rosario and Whitie’s
home in far northwest Washington, D.C. On weekends, Johnny and I would
take our cameras and spend all day Saturday shooting pictures of
Washington’s many beautiful, government buildings. Johnny’s landlord,
at that time, let Johnny build a dark room in his basement. So, after
we spent all day Saturday shooting pictures, I would stay with Johnny
overnight and we’d develop and print the photos all day Sunday. We
always had a great time and learned a lot about photography.
Another "Big Brother" chore Johnny performed was to take me to a men’s
store a couple of times a year, and buy me a suit and other clothing.
He was my fashion expert and taught me how to wear clothes and where I
could get the best ones for the least amount of money. I have never
forgotten this generosity.
While we were in this picture-taking mode, Johnny came down with
appendicitis and had his appendix out. He met me the next evening at
the Keith Theater where we saw a movie called, "Nurse Carvel." It was
about a famous nurse who did a lot of good things. I no longer
remember the movie, but, can you imagine someone going into a hospital
with appendicitis, having the operation, leaving the next day and
going to a movie that night. As far as I can see, only Johnny could
pull that off.
Johnny and I lost touch with each other when I moved to Philadelphia
to take a job as a messenger with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
On October 23, 1942, I enlisted in the Navy Reserve as a Naval
Aviation Cadet. Johnny was drafted into the Army and both of us began
doing our WW-II thing for God, Flag and Country.
I was called to active duty in the Navy Reserve on February 13, 1943
and began 18 months of very rigorous training to become a Marine Corps
Fighter Pilot. Johnny was sworn into the Army that same year at Ft.
Myer, VA, and was immediately sent to an induction center at Camp Lee,
NC. There he volunteered for the paratroopers. After about 2 or 3
weeks, he was assigned to K.P. duty (Kitchen Police). Johnny thought
this was an easy stint since he had just left a job at the Neptune
Room, where he had been a breakfast cook. K.P. therefore, was his
first Army assignment and he soon ended up at the officer’s mess.
Johnny began coaching the enlisted men in the officer’s mess, telling
them what to do and how to do it. Getting no visible response, it
dawned on him that these men didn’t know what he was talking about.
They came from rural Kentucky and their idea of a kitchen was a small
room in a small house with a wood burning stove doing double duty as a
place to cook and to keep warm.
To overcome this "untrained personnel" problem, Johnny set up some
procedures, which had the uninitiated Kentuckians taking the breakfast
orders from the officers. After taking the orders, they would tell
Johnny in their country lingo what the officers ordered. Johnny would
then tell them how to order the food from the kitchen and how to serve
it. This system worked very well, so much so that Johnny came to the
attention of the Sergeant in charge of the officer’s mess. The
Sergeant asked Johnny what he did before coming into the service. When
Johnny said he worked in a restaurant, the Sergeant wanted to have him
transferred immediately to the officer’s mess under him. He asked
Johnny if he had volunteered for any other duty so that he could
process him properly. When Johnny said that he had volunteered for the
paratroopers, the Sergeant was crest-fallen because the paratroopers
had the highest priority for men and was the only place from which he
could not negotiate a transfer. So Johnny remained on temporary duty
in the officer‚s mess.
A few days later, he transferred to the paratrooper training base at
Camp Blanding, Florida. Walking was not allowed at this training base
unless you were going to sick call, and you’d better be sick.
Double-time was the rule for all trainees, all the time and
everywhere. After about two weeks training, he was instructed, along
with other trainees, to jump off of a platform about ten feet high
into a sawdust pit. In doing this, his feet went flat and he was
unable to continue his training.
He was then sent to the combat engineer’s training base in Durham, N.
C. After 10 weeks of a 12-week basic training course, a group of four,
including Johnny, was detailed to build a bridge across a little creek
in one hour. They were given a saw, a hammer, a hatchet and a couple
of other basic tools. They chopped down two trees and put them across
the creek and made the bridge. No big deal.
After that successful effort, Johnny noticed a group of trainees
crowding around his Sergeant. It seemed that the Sergeant had a
weekend pass and was planning to spend it in Washington, D.C. The men
were giving him names of girls to visit while he was there. When the
men left, the Sergeant complained to Johnny that the girl’s names he
had gotten all seemed to be kids. He was 27 and not about to go out
with teen-agers. Johnny suggested that he visit the Neptune Room where
he had worked. He said he had a lot of friends there and suggested
that he see his former boss and tell him that he was Johnny’s
Sergeant. If he did, Johnny said, at least he’d get a good meal. The
Sergeant went to Washington, D.C.
That Sunday at about 2 a.m., Johnny felt somebody tugging on his foot.
It was the Sergeant. He said, come with me. Johnny staggered to his
feet, wondering what was going on. He followed the Sergeant to his
quarters. There, the Sergeant reached under his bed, got a fifth of
Vat-69 Scotch and poured Johnny a huge drink. Then, with a big smile,
the Sergeant told him about his Saturday visit to Washington. He said
he had checked out all the girls his men had recommended and didn’t
find an adult in the whole lot. In desperation, he took a cab to the
Neptune Room. When he told Johnny’s boss that he was Johnny’s
Sergeant, he was treated like royalty. They fed him, bought him drinks
and even took him to a nightclub on Bladensburg Road. The girls who
went along took him dancing, after which they all ended up at Johnny’s
roommate’s apartment, staying there for the night. All in all he said
he’d had the best time of his life. Score one for Johnny, he gained
the Sergeant for a friend.
The next week, the eleventh week of boot camp, the Sergeant went up to
Johnny and said in a low voice, "Take a screw out of your rifle’s
sight and put your rifle in ordinance for repair. Make sure you get a
receipt for it.” The Sergeant further explained, "they have three
weekend passes for seven hundred men,” he continued, “and if you stand
in line with your rifle like the others, there’s no way in hell you’re
going to get one of those passes. I’ll see what I can do." Thanks to
the sergeant, Johnny got one of the passes and spent a memorable
weekend at home in Washington. That same weekend he learned about
Ronnie (Veronica T. Femiani) from her sister who also worked at the
Neptune Room. He met Ronnie, and began a relationship that ultimately
resulted in a happy marriage and 3 children.
After boot camp, Johnny was sent to New York to join a large group of
troops being sent to Africa as replacements for troops fighting
General Rommel. They were put aboard a ship and Johnny ended up in a
stateroom. He figured that it was a mistake, but he wasn’t about to
tell anybody. As a result he made the 21-day trip across the Atlantic
in a fine stateroom complete with shower. It took 21 days instead of 4
or 5 days to make the trip because they had to zigzag to avoid German
A day before they landed, they could see the straits of Gibraltar;
which meant Africa. That same day, they were ordered topside to listen
to a talk by the Colonel, The Colonel harangued them with stories
about the invincibility of Rommel’s forces and how he was winning in
Africa, etc., etc. The result of this "pep talk" to the troops was
that it demoralized and scared the living daylights out of them.
After disembarking, they went to a bivouac area to put up their tents.
Every morning trucks would come by and when a name was called, that
person climbed into a truck with all his gear and away they went.
Troops whose names weren’t called were given the rest of the day off.
On one of those day’s off, Johnny and some of his friends decided to
explore the area. They went to the top of a cliff overlooking the
harbor. Looking closer, they saw a grotto in the cliff with a statue
of the Blessed Virgin in it. They decided to find out how in the world
anybody could get to that statue. They went down to the base of the
cliff and found that there actually was a way of getting up to the
grotto. They climbed up to it and discovered that practically every
inch of the grotto and the statue was covered with names. Not to be
outdone by earlier visitors, Johnny found a small spot on the statue
to write his name. He said if you don’t believe him, climb up to the
statue and see for yourself.
When Johnny and his friends returned to the bivouac area he found that
all the buddies with whom he had trained had been taken away in the
trucks. The next morning, his name was called but before he got into a
truck, the Sergeant in charge said, “Come with me.” He was taken to an
officer who asked, "are you a Catholic?” "Well," Johnny replied, "I
was baptized and confirmed but I’m not a practicing Catholic." The
Lieutenant said, "I didn’t think so," and added that he needed someone
in record keeping and Johnny was the one he thought could do the job.
He pointed to a camera that was set up and asked if Johnny could
operate it and develop film. Johnny had been taking pictures with all
kinds of cameras for about 10 years so he said yes. The Lt. said,
“this job calls for a Tech. Sergeant. You can’t get the stripes right
away but you’ll eventually get them.” That’s how Johnny became a Tech.
Sergeant and an Army photographer.
Later on, Johnny, along with another Sergeant, a Corporal and some
enlisted men, began processing prisoners, mostly Germans, in North
Africa. The terrain was flat and brown and the air was dry and very
clear. They could see for miles. Johnny saw German prisoners marching
eight abreast in a line that ran about a mile long with every man in
perfect step. These were members of Rommel’s elite, "unbeatable”
Afrika Corps, which had just been beaten. Johnny’s team was processing
them in groups of fifty. They took everything away from them and then
gave each of them a manila envelope for their personal effects.
While he was in the service, Johnny and Ronnie corresponded every day.
Ronnie’s letters were about 8 pages long. While Johnny was overseas,
Ronnie wrote over eleven hundred letters to him and Johnny answered
After Johnny got out of the service, he and Ronnie wanted to get
married right away. He got the license and they proceeded to a
Catholic Church because Ronnie wanted to be married by a priest. Upon
learning that Johnny already had the license and they wanted to be
married as soon as possible, the priest went ballistic. He said, very
angrily, that there were many things to do before they could get
married. Announcements had to be made for three Sundays, and he went
on and on about all the rules, etc. Johnny said he had been overseas
for three years, and that he and his fiancée had been waiting for four
years to get married and they intended to get married there or
After the priest verbally threw them out of the
church, they met another priest outside who had just gotten out of the
service. That Priest asked what the problem was and they told him
their story. He then asked, "When do you want to get married?" Johnny
said they would like to get married the next day, a Sunday. The priest
said, "come to the church around eleven o’clock." Johnny asked his
best friend to be his "best man," and when the three of them arrived
at the church, who was there to perform the ceremony but the priest
that had given them such a hard time.
It turns out that the priest
they met in the street was the pastor and the unsympathetic priest
only a "spear carrier." He reluctantly performed the ceremony,
mispronouncing their names so badly that the best man was in paroxysm
of stifled laughter. In spite of the bumpy beginning, a very strong
knot was tied that Sunday that stayed tied until Ronnie’s death from
Leukemia in 1970. Johnny and Ronnie had a very short honeymoon, and he
was back at work the next day.
Some time after they were married, they learned that the very strict
priest who refused to marry them and threatened them with hell’s fire,
ran off with his housekeeper.
After leaving the service, Johnny was back working at the Neptune Room
as a cook. He had always been interested in machinery and how it
operated, This interest led Johnny to an up-coming opportunity for an
important career change.
It seems that the restaurant’s maintenance workers didn’t work on the
weekends. On one Saturday, an emergency developed in one of the many
restaurant machines with no one available to fix it. Johnny smelled
rubber burning and figured that a belt was burning. He located the
problem, turned the machine off, went to the maintenance shop, got a
belt and replaced the worn one, solving the problem.
When one of the owners heard how Johnny averted a possible dangerous
fire, he suggested that Johnny use the G.I. Bill to learn a trade and
get out of the cooking business. Cooks are a dime a dozen, the owner
said, but what he needed was someone who could fix things. He offered
to help Johnny in any way he could and he did. He saw to it that
Johnny had a car with which to go back and forth to work and to school
because of Johnny’s very difficult working and school hours.
Johnny talked it over with Ronnie and they decided that he should
enroll in a heating, air conditioning and refrigeration school. His
class was made up of high school graduates and some college men. Since
Johnny had only gotten to the second year of high school, it was very
difficult for him to keep up with the other students. He sat in the
front row and asked question after question until he thoroughly
understood his lessons.
Actually, he became a pain in the neck with his questions, and one day
the teacher told him so. That was a mistake, because Johnny was all
over him telling him what the teacher needed to do to improve the
course and why. The teacher finally calmed Johnny down and made no
more snide remarks about Johnny’s questions.
Johnny’s schedule required him to work all day at the restaurant, get
off at 5 p. m. and get to school by 5:15. He would be in school until
9:00 p.m. Then back home to sleep and up by 6 a.m. to go back to work.
Thus the need for a car. This went on five days a week for three
Johnny said that he never got less than 100 on any of his tests except
one in which he missed two questions. There was a black student in the
class who used to copy the answers from Johnny’s test papers. That
student’s test had the same two questions answered wrong. As a
consequence, his desk was moved far away from Johnny’s.
At the graduation ceremony, Johnny informed the teacher that, whereas
he may have known a lot about heating, refrigeration and air
conditioning, he didn’t know a damn thing about teaching it.
Johnny did very well as an air condition, heating and refrigeration
professional except for one close call that almost cost him his life.
Johnny was working on a cooling tower on top of the Harris Hotel at
Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Streets when he slipped and
fell from the tower. Not only did he fall but he was also about to
fall over the edge of the short wall that surrounded the roof.
Fortunately, his helper was sitting very near the short wall facing
outward. As Johnny was going over the short wall, his helper
instinctively caught Johnny’s foot with his own foot as it was passing
by. With his foot, the helper pressed Johnny’s foot against the inside
of the short wall and kept Johnny from taking a quick trip to the
Massachusetts Avenue sidewalk.
Johnny had literally gone over the wall
and was hanging, head down, over Massachusetts Avenue. His helper
could not move for fear of releasing the pressure on Johnny’s foot and
thereby releasing him to fall to the street. As a crowd was gathering
on Massachusetts Avenue, Johnny was shouting to his helper to keep the
pressure on his foot, which he did. In the meantime, Johnny was
inching his hand up the outside of the wall until he could get a good
grip on the top of the wall and begin to pull himself up so that he
was hanging head up instead of head down over Massachusetts Avenue.
Things were looking up (pun intended). Needless to say, he made it and
put repairing cooling towers on his “Do not do.” list
Johnny and Ronnie’s first home was in Colmar Manor, Maryland. Their
three children, Jan Rey, Juan Ramon and Catherine Rose, were born
while they lived there. Ronnie passed away in 1970, only 6 weeks after
being diagnosed with Leukemia. They had been married for 25 years.
In 1972, Johnny met Joyleen Taylor Galentine. Joyleen’s husband had
died in 1966, leaving her with four children. Both Joyleen and Johnny
felt they had found another perfect mate in each other, and became
husband and wife. They spent the next 25 years in a happy marriage,
until tragedy struck again and Joyleen passed away in 1997 from high
In April, 2001, Johnny suffered a stroke, which left his right leg
paralyzed, requiring him to use a walker. The worst part of this was
his inability to drive, which really changed the quality of his life.
But as you would expect, Johnny has made the best of a rough deal and
is doing the best he can to enjoy life in spite of his handicap.