By Mark HughesDecember 6, 2011
MCALESTER, Okla.--Noble "Buddie" Johnson, 91, stepped briskly without aid, as he walked the terrain of his youth at McAlester Army Ammunition Plant. He maneuvered through tall grass next to historical markers that noted the past existence of structures long gone but certainly not forgotten.
He recalled with clarity the daily life of a grade school boy growing up in the hard times of the Great Depression on his family farm, more than two decades before it became part of the McAlester Naval Ammunition Depot in 1943.
Accompanied by his son Jim and his wife of 70 years, Doris Self Johnson of Stringtown, Okla., he traveled from Jacksonville, Texas, where he lives close to family, to visit his place of origin.
Johnson attended the two-room school house at Celestine school for grades one through eight. "What we called the 'little room' was where grades one through four were taught and in the 'big room' were grades five through eight with a partition dividing the two," he recalled. About 40 children attended Celestine school and each room had one teacher and the school also doubled as a church. His best friend at Celestine was Jake I. Mabry who lives in McAlester.
Most of the time Johnson walked the one-and-one-quarter mile to school but every now and then he had a chance to ride his horse "Bill," which he tied up outside. Once a student graduated from eighth grade, he had to go to Haywood School for grades nine through 12, Johnson said.
His family farm covered 50 acres and they grew cotton and corn for cash crops and maize which they fed to their cattle. When his father died in 1935, his mother and he tried for two more years to "make a crop" during the hardest dust bowl years of the Great Depression but couldn't. They packed up and moved to Lindsay, Okla.
While at the farm site, Johnson recalled how Oklahoma got the nickname "the dust bowl." He said dust storms, so massive and plentiful, would roll through the countryside covering the sun and turning the day into night.
During World War II, Johnson served two years in the Seabees, from 1943-1945, and participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima. His saddest memory of Iwo is a truck blowing up and killing several of his friends.
After 70 years of marriage, Johnson can still recall how he got the attention of his bride-to-be.
They both worked at the Domestic Egg Products Plant in Chickasha. Doris worked the 2 to 10 p.m. shift and Buddie worked the 3 to 11 p.m. shift. Doris would usually spend 10 cents and take a taxi home. One day he told her if she would wait an hour he would take her home for free. Three months later they were married and now have three children, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.