BY LOGAN MCCOURTNEY –
Sometimes life brings you full circle to a similar place you have been, only to show you how much you have grown and life has changed. Often the things that we leave behind are the things that we learn to love again the next time. Linda Johnson grew up in a small town in southeast Ohio about an hour and a half from Columbus. Now, just like she started her life, Linda is living in another small town as she enjoys retired living in Mena.
Linda grew up in Philo, Ohio. It was your typical small town community. A little smaller than Mena, it made for a memorable experience growing up. “It was your typical small community. A couple of grocery stores, a corner lunch, and some gas stations. I remember Dad actually having a charge account at one of the grocery stores,” recalls Linda. After high school Linda went to school to become a nurse, becoming an LPN afterwards. She and her family had never traveled much, their biggest trip was just down the road an hour and a half to Columbus. “We never really had the money to go anywhere big so we would just go to Columbus. It was like driving from here to Fort Smith.” Desiring to see more of the world and use her nursing skills in a meaningful way, Linda joined the Armed Forces. “I wanted to be a medic in the Air Force, which I eventually got to do, but I went in with an open contract,” she explains.
The military was a big part of Linda’s life, her service totaled almost 25 years, some of which were active duty and reserve. Linda and her husband, Wayne, have lived in several different states due to her military experience. While living in Virginia, she was deployed to Desert Storm to continue her medic work. After deployment, she and Wayne ended up in Tulsa for 10 years before her unit was deactivated. “I enjoyed my time in the military and meeting new people. I got to do a lot of fun things, especially for a small town girl,” smiles Linda.
Although her service in the military was over, after moving to Texas, she continued serving people as a nurse while working at the Valley Baptist Medical Center working in Infection Control. “During the time I was working there, a guy that worked in the building with me knew that Wayne and I rode motorcycles and he was a member of CMA. He invited us to join and we have been involved since.” Although she was no longer in the military, Linda continued serving the military as the Jr. Vice Commander for her local VFW.
Like many people that call Mena home, Linda and Wayne were looking to retire and slow down. Wayne wanted to move closer to family that was in Oklahoma, but it happened that the couple ended up settling in Mena. “Wayne kept searching for property close to his family, but instead of property in Oklahoma, the computer kicked us over to Mena each time. Time after time of doing it, we started looking at property in Mena and found our new home.”
Despite moving to Mena to settle down and slow their pace, Linda is involved in many different things, including taking classes at UA Rich Mountain, serving as the Commander of the local VFW Post #4451. There are many fundraisers and projects going on that the VFW supports as they continue to be a valuable organization in the community. “As Commander, I work on things like our membership, but my attention is really on changing the perception of the VFW. We have a lot of good people and we are supporting many good things, most of the support being given locally.”
Recently, Mena received the opportunity to be a host site for The Wall That Heals, a traveling replica of the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial. Linda was instrumental in bringing ‘The Wall’ to Mena, and the idea to bring ‘The Wall’ originated while Linda was at home one day last Summer. “I was sitting in my living room and was thinking about whether we could get one here. There are four different wall replicas and one was booked until 2018, and the others already had applications from Arkansas. It left me with The Wall That Heals and so I applied.” Much to her surprise, Linda received an email in the middle of November telling her that Mena had been chosen as a host site. “I just thought, ‘What? No way!’ I was so excited, but I knew it was time to get to work.” Work is exactly what it was going to take to get the wall here. Linda, along with many other faithful volunteers took the necessary steps needed to bring the wall, including talking to area businesses to raise the needed $7,500. “I sent letters to school districts all over Arkansas and in Oklahoma. We wanted to make it available for anyone to come.”
The Wall That Heals proved to be a big success, being visited by thousands of people from around Mena and the surrounding areas. “Honestly, numbers were the second thought I had. My first thought was about the Vets who would never be able to go see The Wall in Washington. I wanted them to be able to experience this so that they could finally experience healing,” says Linda humbly. So many people had the opportunity to experience The Wall for the first time, and it truly was an experience that many will never forget. “There were Vietnam Vets that came and thanked me and others who helped bring The Wall. Their thank-you are what made all the hard work worth it, seeing their appreciation meant the world.”
Linda’s life is an example to anyone around her, the service that she has given to her country and now her community is admirable and example to everyone. “I’m fortunate, my time of service has allowed me to see and do things that I would have never had the opportunity. I’m very thankful.”