“I was on Okinawa when they finished the war,” says World War II Veteran Vernon “Possum” Johnston. “We went through that 200 mile-an-hour typhoon that come through there. Wasn’t nothing left but the slabs of the hut we was in. Blew away all the food. We had nothing to eat for 2 days. Tents were all blown out into Butler Bay.” The memory is still clear for Johnston—called Possum by all who know him. He was 20 years old when the war ended. Now, 74 years later, his living arrangements are significantly more secure.
He was one of around 18 individuals to move into Freedom’s Path at Kerrville when the property opened in December 2016, and Possum likes the close proximity to his previous home in Harper, Texas—about a half hour away. He still enjoys driving himself over to visit old friends, who invite him out for supper and card games.
Possum was born out in the country near Bayton, TX, where his father and grandfather both had rice farms. After the war, he came home, bought a combine, and farmed rice for two years. Eventually, after a stint running a service station, he went to work for Lubrizol Corporation, where he worked his way up the ladder over 31 years, retiring as a superintendent over 5 departments.
Nowadays, Possum is glad to be in a quality housing unit close to a hospital and appreciates the staff at Freedom's Path. He enjoys a good fish fry or a barbecue, watching golf and the news, and listening to music. “I danced all my life,” he says. Out in California before he went oversees, he went to one of the big dance halls, but he was too young to get anything at the bar. So he took a half pint of whiskey and hid it under a couch. When he went back, there was a girl sitting on the couch. “You’re sitting on my whiskey,” he told her and then asked her to dance. She replied that she liked country music better. Possum didn’t let that stop him. He took her hand and brought her to another dance around the corner that played country. A couple at a nearby table asked them to come over and sit—they turned out to be the movie star John Payne and his date, who gave them an autographed photo.
After he got out of the service, Possum and his dad went to dance contests. “We used to go to a waltz contest and then a jitterbug contest. They’d give a case of beer to the winner. He’d win the waltz contest, and I’d win the damn jitterbug, and we’d have two cases of beer for Sunday.”
And what about the nickname? “The first day I went to school, I didn’t care for it,” Possum says. “So at recess I went up a tree and I wouldn’t come down. An older student said ‘I’ll get that possum out of that tree.’ I kept climbing up, and he couldn’t get me. I stayed there till the school bus came and then climbed down. Got a whipping when I got home and another when I got back to school the next day. Been Possum ever since.”
He was married to his late wife Jeanne for 40 years before she passed away. He has a daughter close by who checks on him every day.