They came from Arkansas, Virginia, North Carolina, Alabama and parts of Tennessee to stand in front of the man who started it all, and to socialize with a friend they had previously known only over the Internet. Now, after enjoying a meal, singing together and talking in person, the bond between his new band of brothers and sisters has deepened even more.
“You should have seen his face. He lit up like a star! You could just see his face shining,” said Johansen’s wife, Lilo.
“They told me they had been talking about coming here three or four months ago,” Johansen said. “Then they called one day and said, ‘Yes! We’re coming! We’ll see you Friday, Sept. 27! We got things ready — we had food and a karaoke machine set up. They arrived around 7:30 that evening. We had seven to eight hours of great times. Everyone got up and sang. It made me feel great!”
Johansen joined the U.S. Army in 1961 and officially retired as a major from all military service after 20 years. He served in the Tennessee Defense Force (now Tennessee State Guard) in Cleveland in the 1980s under his Battalion Commander Tom Rowland, in the 402nd as members of the Military Police.
“We worked the Olympics in 1996 — doing security,” Johansen recalled. “You had to have special clearance to work with the Olympic committee. We were also working alongside the FBI. We did a lot of different things back then. We covered crowd and traffic control at Tri-State [Exhibition Center] events as well.”
Johansen, 69, said the 402nd finally shut down in Cleveland and getting ill, he finally retired from military service, explaining, “I got promoted as a major. My medical discharge papers say captain. But after I retired out medically, I was called back in for a while and that’s when I got promoted to major.”
Johansen was diagnosed with a rare form of muscular dystrophy in 2001, called inclusion body myositis, or IBM — a disease of the muscle which causes them to become thin and weak. It usually occurs in middle to late life and is more common in men than women. It is a slowly progressive condition causing a gradual deterioration in muscle strength over the years.
After his diagnosis with muscular dystrophy, Johansen did not let his health interfere with his happiness. The following year, on June 1, 2002, he launched what he calls “the only Southern heritage radio station in the world” at wdxb.net, which has been broadcasting 365 days a year ever since. Then in 2003, Johansen launched his official website, www.dixcinternet-radio.org.
“Because I couldn’t do much of anything else, I got on a chat program and started meeting people,” he explained. “I met one woman named Pat Dockens from Charleston, S.C., who was interested in singing and talking to military people. So was I. She and I both loved to help people, so we opened a chat room. People would come in to sing and play music. After a couple of years we started dedicating everything to the military — to those who were deployed overseas. The word got out to tune in and listen to us on the Internet, or to visit our chat room.”
Johansen could see that the voice of a movement was taking shape and decided to build a website to complement his online radio station.
“The website started back in 2003,” he said. “We’re actually, right now, in our 10th year of broadcasting to the troops. When Pat was still alive she had received emails from troops deployed overseas. Some were in the Naval Air Forces, stationed on a ship in Iraq and they would tune in to our station and pipe the whole broadcast throughout the ship. Thousands of people were listening. Anyone can download our program for free at paltalk.com. You can get yourself a nickname and come in.”
After talking live over the Internet for years, Johansen’s online friends from various states took a major step in making lasting friends with a man who decided to make a difference, despite being confined in a wheelchair.
“It use to be that I would get out and travel to see people,” Johansen said. “But since I’m disabled now, I can’t. I used to have a motor home where I would go everywhere to see everybody — Iowa, Illinois, Alabama, Massachusetts — just to see people and visit. But now that I can’t, I guess they said, ‘Let’s go see him! I’m glad they did.”
Married 49 years to his wife, Lilo, they have two children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.