Daniel Johnson retired from the U.S. Army as a master sergeant. But when he moved his family to Atlantic City in 1967, he got a field promotion.
Around his Bungalow Park neighborhood, he was called the Colonel — only not to his face.
Johnson and his wife, Jimmie Lee — who were married 70 years when Daniel died Aug. 28, at 94 — had nine children. And those kids, now 55 to 70, never had any doubt their father respected discipline, and expected it from his own family.
“We thought we were in the military,” says the oldest of the nine, Evelyn Stafford, of Atlantic City.
They knew their dad had survived combat in World War II and the Korean War. And he went on in his 32-plus Army years to be a drill sergeant, turning young trainees into soldiers. But just in case any of the kids’ friends weren’t sure what he was all about, Daniel made sure they learned as soon as he met them.
Steve Hicks, now 60, of Pleasantville, was a friend of Ray Johnson, the second son. Hicks still remembers the day he met “Mr. Johnson” — the first day Hicks got to use his brand-new driver’s license.
He was 6-feet, 2-inches and 240 pounds, with a “cigar stuck between his teeth. He said to me, ‘How old are you, boy?’ I told him I was old enough to drive. He said, ‘Old enough to drive?’ You don’t look old enough to have a bicycle license. ... What, did you steal that car from your mother?’”
Robert Johnson, the youngest of the nine kids, says his father always made it a point to answer the door — so he’d know who was in his home. And after the kids’ friends caught Daniel’s act enough times, they started calling him the Colonel — as long as he couldn’t hear. They could joke about him, but when he was around, he got the respect he commanded.
The Johnson kids caught on early about who was the boss, say after a few Saturday haircut sessions.
“Everybody was in line,” Robert says. “And you had no choice in the style. There was one style — bald.”
There also wasn’t much choice in how to dress. Shoes had to be shined, pants needed a crease.
“He’d tell us, ‘That wouldn’t pass inspection,’” Robert says.
The Colonel would still wear his Army fatigue pants — neatly pressed — around town, even after he retired to Atlantic City. And his favorite camouflage hat identified him as a veteran of two wars.
“He was a good soldier,” says his wife, who turns 88 this week. “He believed in the Army.”
And for all his drill-sergeant ways, Hicks knows now Daniel was often just “busting chops,” having fun — with a perfectly straight face — when he gave his kids’ friends a hard time.
“He had a heart of gold,” Hicks says. “But you always knew who was in charge — and he was the one.”
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