Legs Astride the World by Mary Susan Heath
“Here are stories many soldiers would never tell. We witness the tears in ‘Legs’ Johnson’s eyes and his inability to speak any more. You will set aside what you don’t know, or never knew, and simply listen and marvel at what two determined human beings can do.”
—Judy Hogan, Writer, Poet, Publisher, Teacher, author of the Penny Weaver Mystery series.
“Ms. Heath’s strong prose balances ‘Legs’ Johnson’s storytelling. But she never forgets her subject and enhances his life with rich sensory images, such as the meals they enjoy at Legs’ favorite southern restaurants, Huey’s and The Blue Ribbon in Mebane, North Carolina.”
—Margaret Boothe Baddour, author of Easy Magic and Scheherazade
“Mary Susan Heath tells the story of the young man before the uniform, the older man in the uniform of World War II and Korea, and the aging man after the uniform was retired, questioning why he survived and others did not. Johnson’s stories related to his devoted niece are of lessons learned, loss, destruction, and death, but never defeat.”
—Katherine Wolfe, author of Time That Has Gone and coauthor of Savannah on my Mind
In rural Clayton, North Carolina, during the Great Depression, life was secure and ordered by hard work, love of family, and respect for oneself and others. Survival meant growing crops, hunting for food, and raising hogs for slaughter. “You killed in order to eat,” my uncle said.
As an Army infantry officer during World War II and in Korea, death became personal for my uncle. “It’s you or your enemy,” he recalled. Lehman H. (“Legs”) Johnson, Jr. killed in order to survive and lived to tell about it in his memoir, Legs Astride the World. There were the questions that haunted him, and he explored these by linking stories from his childhood with tales of the Philippine Campaign and the execution of Nazi war criminals at Landsberg, Germany.
Then there was the final question Uncle Legs asked himself and the readers he would not know: “How does a soldier face death as a survivor of war?”
As a journalism teacher, Mary Susan Heath recognized the historical significance of her uncle’s World War II stories, so when Lieutenant Colonel Lehman H. Johnson, Jr., tapped her to write his memoir, she was honored to accept. Now retired from teaching, Ms. Heath was certified twice as a National Board Teacher. She holds a master’s degree in English from N.C. State University and published her thesis in the CLA Journal. It was subsequently republished in the Journal of Modern Literature. She has published poetry in the Crucible and in Wayne Community College’s Renaissance. Currently, she serves as the Education and History Consultant for the Wayne Historical Society, in Goldsboro, partnering with Wayne County Schools, she has recently written two plays, Home Grown in Goldsboro, Dorothy Cotton (1930-2018), and Lady Liberty, for the newly launched traveling trunks exhibition, funded through the North Carolina Humanities Council. Ms. Heath currently resides in Goldsboro.