Monday, June 12, 2006


His name is Raymond J. Johnson Senior. But you don't have to call him Johnson - and if you don't check his mood first, you might want to avoid that whole comedy routine completely. His past includes post-traumatic stress disorder, so too much time before a punch line might set him off.

"I'm mad as h**l," Raymond Johnson Sr. told me when we first met last week. In fact, he stood close enough to me that he touched my shirt a time or two to make his points. I was SO tempted to take a flop back toward a wall, like pro basketball players do.

Why was Raymond Johnson Sr. so mad? This retired Army Sergeant First Class is upset with the way he's being treated as a veteran, and the way other veterans are being treated. "Don't f**k with me," he told me at one point - but really, I didn't take that laptop computer filled with veterans records.

Raymond Johnson Sr. decided to make the Columbus media rounds to spread his angry message. With his family. And his Army uniform. And his purple heart plaque. And several notebooks full of documents. About the only thing missing was Cindy Sheehan.

Raymond Johnson Sr. already was upset that his complaints weren't being heard and addressed by government officials. But I set him off when he named State Senator Seth Harp, and I asked why he wrote a state lawmaker about a federal issue. I forgot Harp can file suit as an attorney, the rest of the year.

Raymond Johnson Sr. raised his voice in agitation when I challenged his logic about writing Seth Harp -- and he kept complaining for about ten solid minutes, swearing a few times along the way. By the way, did I mention this man is currently a church pastor?

But I should start at the very beginning. Raymond Johnson Sr. served 20 years and 28 days in the Army, receiving a purple heart (albeit 13 years late) for his effort to capture Manuel Noriega in Panama in 1989. Now he says Noriega is treated better than he is -- but hey, they both claim to be converted.

Raymond Johnson's purple heart from Panama was for a parachute jump which had a bad landing, and a building which crashed down on him. Yet the retired Sergeant was well enough to let all his soldiers call home, from the office phone of Manuel Noriega. Did our government ever pay his replacement that long-distance bill?

Raymond Johnson Sr. is quick to show you the incisions in his body from several operations. He says doctors made mistakes in a lumbar fusion, and he wound up in a "body cast" for two years - even as he trained soldiers at Fort Benning. I'll assume someone else showed how sit-ups are done.

. Raymond Johnson Sr. told me he's receiving about $1,700 a month in veterans' disability - yet he needs "food stamps and welfare" to support his wife and three children. He calls himself one of the millions of vets who are "being neglected." But at least in Columbus, Lonnie Jackson honors him several times a year....

(It doesn't help that "cruel creditors" keep calling, as Raymond Johnson describes them. He says a mortgage company is trying to evict him for being two payments behind. But maybe he should be thankful -- most apartment landlords wouldn't give him one.)

But perhaps just as irritating for him, Raymond Johnson Sr. says he was never recommended for any kind of psychiatric or mental help. He now battles post-traumatic stress disorder - and he acted in front of me like he might have that new I.E.D. anger disorder to boot.

The last straw for Raymond Johnson Sr. apparently came June 2, when he had a visit with "Team A from the Tuskegee Veterans Administration." He says that team denied him help -- so he became a "Type A" in response. As in personality....

Not only did Raymond Johnson Jr. visit Columbus media outlets and write Seth Harp, he also wrote letters to Oprah Winfrey and Larry King seeking to spread his complaints. "It's gonna be a great book," he assured me. And once it's written, those TV hosts actually may pay attention to him.

My first meeting with Raymond Johnson Sr. stressed him out so much, he said he couldn't go on to the Ledger-Enquirer. In fact, one of his letters says: "I believe I've even lost most of my physical and mental capacity...." Yet of course, he denied to me that he's crazy.

I didn't dare interrupt Raymond Johnson Senior's long angry speech - but he returned to my office the next day to apologize, and left behind some personal papers to consider. How would I return them to him? If I visited his house, there seemed to be a chance I could wind up in a body cast myself.

But since Raymond Johnson Sr. is a pastor, the better choice seemed to be a visit to his Sunday service. It would be "his turf," but it would also be "holy ground" in his eyes. If he shoved me off the stairway, some members actually might consider it an attempt to heal me.

Raymond Johnson Sr. is pastor of Solid Rock Temple of Faith, a church he founded three years ago on Avalon Road. The church is hidden behind a house which is also a ministry - hidden away from not only the world, but police officers if think went out of control.

I arrived at Solid Rock Temple of Faith ten minutes before service time, and was the third car in the parking lot. The last time something like this happened to me, I was on vacation in San Francisco - where a large church had just split in two, and someone seeing me expressed happiness "someone with money" still was attending.

Solid Rock Temple of Faith is small and simple, with seven pews on either side of the center aisle. Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. saw me walk in, came to the pew I chose in the rear and gave me a long hug. Now that's more like what many people expect from a preacher - unless they're preaching against same-sex marriage.

This little temple has no organ, has an upright piano which no one touched while I was there - but plenty of Christian records which was played loudly. I guess that's the modern alternative to ringing a bell, for a call to worship.

"We'll start the service in five minutes," Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. announced. But then he proceeded to delay the service 15 minutes, while giving me a tour of the building. He showed me plaques he'd received from the military, and even showed me his scars again. I took a camera, but NOT for this reason....

Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. believes God has told him to get his message about veterans to President Bush. He told me this at the temple matter-of-factly - but only days before, he talked about "bringing a hammer" to do it. In modern-day Washington, this might get him a visit from the Secret Service first.

"Susannah Avery embarrassed me," Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. went on to tell me. The WRBL reporter apparently spent four hours with him last week, but only put 30 seconds of his story on the air. No, I did NOT bring up News 3 to prompt this response....

"We're a small church," Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. said a couple of times - and indeed, the total attendance Sunday was 14. Don't count his family, and the total was nine. No wonder he takes no salary from the pastor's job - I only saw a few one-dollar bills in the offering plate.

But the small congregation has one talented singer - a Filipino-American woman the pastor called "Sister Sam." She was one of the Rooster 106 FM talent search winners, who performed at the RiverCenter's George Jones concert last weekend. If she wasn't married, Cowboy Troy would be all over her.

After a few songs, Pastor Raymond Johnson Sr. preached from the book on Genesis on the subject, "Don't Let the Green Grass Fool You." That's a timely topic, with near-drought conditions....

The Pastor only mentioned his concern about veterans and his "word from God" to talk with President Bush in passing. But he did speculate the President was surrounded by "a bunch of thieves and liars." Who else has Jack Abramoff been paying off lately?

And Raymond Johnson Sr. surprised me by working into his sermon a verse I said to him after his "mad-as-h**l" speech days before. I had quietly told him to be angry and sin not. He'd stepped on the boundary line so much in our first meeting, he might as well have been playing clay court tennis at Cooper Creek Park.

I left Solid Rock Temple of Faith with Raymond Johnson Sr. as a friend, and we're praying for each other. But I still wonder about several contrasts I'd seen during the day:

+ I parked my car next to a giant brown satellite dish. Does this pastor have enough money to subscribe to DirecTV, and watch Trinity Broadcasting Network for ideas?

+ The congregation was very informal and friendly, as opposed to the pastor's 20-year background of Army formality. My own congregation would have been shocked at how many people actually wore T-shirts.

+ Then there's the Pastor himself - with contrasts as basic as his church clothes. He wore a tie with the words to John 3:16 - held by a tie bar showing a long-barreled rifle.

Now let's head for the fellowship hall, to discuss other Sunday subjects:

+ A front-page story in the Ledger-Enquirer revealed Columbus City Manager Isaiah Hugley is in for a nice raise, no matter which pay plan the Council approves. No wonder he sat quietly when Sheriff Ralph Johnson said, "Fair is fair."

+ The Talbot County town of Woodland regained water, after a two-day outage was traced to a leaking pipe. At least the pipe wasn't under that ratty-looking gymnasium they're still trying to fix....

+ Georgia evened its baseball super-regional series with South Carolina 11-5, forcing a decisive third game today. But what's the deal with all the home runs at Foley Field in Athens? I've seen kitchen sieves hold more things than that yard.

+ Instant Message to the Columbus Parks Department: In case you find money in the budget to clean Benning Park this year - use gloves around one corner of the west racquetball court. I don't know who decided to walk a dog there....

(BLOGGER'S NOTE: Because of the length of today's topic, we'll postpone our e-mail complaint about elections in Smiths Station until Tuesday.)

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