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In memoriam: Thomas Johnson was Marine, cartographer, world traveler

FFRF Lifetime Member Thomas E. Johnson died Dec. 20, 2019.

His daughter Carole Johnson-Wolff graciously took the time to write this obituary for Freethought Today:

Thomas E. Johnson was born in Center City, Minn., in August of 1923. Like many in town, his family was affected by the Great Depression. They often ate fish from the lake next to their house and vegetables from the large garden Tom’s father kept. Tom helped with the family income by delivering

Thomas Johnson was all smiles as he celebrated his 95th birthday in 2018.
Thomas Johnson as a young man in the Marines.

newspapers and working on farms in the area. Before he was of age to join the service, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was stationed in northern Minnesota, where he helped with the camp newspaper. Later he got a job with Woodward Governor as a lathe operator, supporting the war effort.

At the age of 19, Tom joined the Marines and was trained at several military bases around the United States. Before and after joining the service, he traveled extensively from coast to coast by train, car and hitchhiking. He told many colorful stories of his experiences on the road. Near the end of World War II, he was sent to the South Pacific and was stationed in Guam, where he reached the rank of sergeant. He drove trucks, ran the base motor pool, and loaded bombs on planes.

Before his unit was deployed to fight, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war in the Pacific, so he was not personally involved in battles. Tom returned to the United States and earned a bachelor’s degree in history at the University of Colorado. While driving a tour bus in Rocky Mountain National Park, he met his wife-to-be, a youthful tourist passenger from Rockford, Ill., named Pauline. They married a year later, settled in the Denver area and had four children.

Thomas worked for the federal government as a cartographer until his retirement at the age of 55. Many contour lines on USGS 7.5-minute topographic maps are the products of his sure hand and keen eye.

Upon retirement, Tom and Pauline traveled extensively. They took three trips to Europe, one of them riding bicycles across England. Tom was an avid bicyclist and also loved driving. He and Pauline traveled by motorhome across the United States and Mexico, and even took a trip to Central America once. They participated in bicycle races as seniors, and Tom won many medals!

He remained devoted and married to his wife for 67 years. He became Pauline’s caregiver when she developed dementia until she was moved into memory care. After that, Tom lived on his own at home, keeping touch with family and friends via emails. He was a good writer and wrote many stories about his life. Two months before his death, at the ripe age of 96, he finally moved into assisted living and he died shortly thereafter.

He was a staunch believer in science and logic, and was a Lifetime Member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He kept his favorite quote by Col. Robert G. Ingersoll posted on his desk: “Blasphemy is an epithet bestowed by superstition upon common sense.”