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Royal Johnson, photographed in 2015 in his original UM ski team letter jacket


All able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 44 may soon find themselves on the active or reserve list for the fighting army, navy or air force of the United States.

All other persons within the age limits of 18 through 64 may become part of the civilian defense or production machinery of the United States designed to supplement the army, navy and air forces.

So wrote David Lawrence in a front-page column in the Dec. 17, 1941, Billings Gazette.

Ten days earlier, imperial Japanese forces had decimated U.S. military ships and aircraft at Pearl Harbor on Oahu. The attack killed 2,335 Americans, including 68 civilians, and prompted Congress to declare war on both Japan and Nazi Germany.

This war effort required sacrifice from all Americans — in the battlefield and on the home front.

The “inevitable triumph” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted when he asked Congress to declare war came at great cost with 418,500 U.S. casualties among an estimated 60 million war deaths worldwide. The majority were civilians in the countries where combat was ongoing.

It’s clear why the men and women of World War II have been called “The Greatest Generation.” They exemplified the sense of duty and honor that are intrinsic to patriotism. Their willingness to serve our country and to sacrifice personally powered the U.S. and its allies to victory.

Two members of The Greatest Generation who lived out their call to public service long after the war ended were eulogized this week in funeral services.

In Washington, D.C., Americans said farewell on a national day of mourning for former President George H.W. Bush, who died at age 94. He was a U.S. Navy pilot in World War II, having volunteered for service that he probably could have delayed or even avoided as the son of a wealthy and politically powerful New England family.

After moving to Texas and becoming an oilman, Bush entered state politics as a Republican at a time when the Democratic Party dominated the Lone Star State. A long-time acquaintance recalled this week on National Public Radio that Bush believed having two competing parties is good for the people, so he joined the minority party. Even after winning the presidency in 1988, Bush remained a moderate Republican, driven by the duty to serve country ahead of his political party.

In Billings, family, friends and colleagues gathered Monday to remember Royal Calvin Johnson, 93, who died Nov. 19. Johnson fought in World War II. His older brother was killed in the war. Royal Johnson returned to Montana, earned a degree at the University of Montana, married, raised four children and became an astute and trusted investment professional. He was elected to the Billings City Council in the first election after Billings voters adopted our self-government charter. Johnson later served 14 years in the Montana House and Senate. He was the driving force behind establishing the Billings Public Library Foundation, which was instrumental in building the city’s new library. Johnson volunteered his financial and political expertise on the boards of many, many nonprofit organizations, including the Student Assistance Foundation and the Yellowstone County Family Drug Treatment Court Advisory Task Force. He was a longtime community member on The Gazette editorial board.

Like the late President Bush, Johnson was a staunch, but moderate Republican. In the Legislature and in the community, Johnson was known for listening to both sides before making a decision. He asked tough questions and he expected people to do their jobs.

Montana and America need more leaders like George H.W. Bush and Royal C. Johnson — smart, hard-working people who truly believe that elected officials are public servants, who demonstrate civility and respect even while disagreeing and who understand that compromise can be necessary in public policy.

The past week has many Americans recalling the time of Bush 41 when national politics were less divisive and Congress wasn’t continually gridlocked. As Montanans prepare for the biennial Legislature, the partisan divide looms. Our 150 lawmakers will do well to emulate the statesmanship Royal Johnson demonstrated in Helena and Billings.

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