Fred Johnson sits in a pavilion in Cherokee Park, overlooking a trail. It was here, where four years ago, when he turned 51, he decided to run 51 kilometers in the park. That’s about 13 laps around the park, he says.
“Thirteen times I went past this overlook and looked into the woods and saw the steeple in the background,” Johnson says.
There’s another reason why the iconic park has sentimental value to Johnson.
Johnson is a 29-year Army veteran who’s served in Iraq twice as well as Afghanistan and Bosnia — that’s four wars. But Johnson says he waged a fifth war here in Louisville, dealing with the aftermath. He tells his story in his memoir, “Five Wars: A Soldier’s Journey to Peace.”
I spoke with Johnson about how Louisville helped him defeat his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Listen to our conversation in the player above.
On why he wanted to return to the Army even after knowing he had PTSD:
“I missed the camaraderie, I missed the excitement. I missed the purpose of being bigger than myself. I just missed it. I felt normal in that shared hardship of war.”
On how Louisville helped him recover:
“I’m here…a healthy member of the community and it’s all because of the compassion of Louisville and the people in the city that wrapped their arms around me like a cocoon.”
On what citizens can do to make veterans feel more welcome on their return home:
“A lot of citizens thank us for our service and we appreciate that but we want more for us to be understood and the environment we’re placed in to be understood.
“So just take the time to talk to us and get to know us a little bit. I think you’ll like us. And we got a lot of good stories.”
Johnson will speak about his book Thursday, May 25 at the Tim Faulkner Gallery. Details can be found here.