George Johnson (supercentenarian)
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|George Henry Johnson|
May 1, 1894|
August 30, 2006|
(aged 112 years, 121 days)
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Years of service||1917–1919|
|Unit||Fourteenth Company, 154th Battalion|
|Battles/wars||World War I|
|Relations||James Edward Johnson (father)|
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Born in Philadelphia, Johnson led a rich and eventful life – by his own accounts, he had rubbed shoulders at various times with Standard Oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller and Henry Ford, and also claimed that his grandfather was U.S. President Andrew Johnson. His father, James Edward Johnson, the manager of the Baltimore and Ohio Railway station in Philadelphia, was alleged to be the illegitimate love-child of the former President. Though unconfirmed by independent journalists or academic researchers, some people address the facts of his father James' unusual position of authority for an African American, as well as the claim that James was present at the Gettysburg Address in 1863, as evidence that George Johnson was truly the grandson of the 17th President, which meant that he was of mixed Caucasian and African American ancestry.
He was drafted into the United States Army in 1917, and served in the Fourteenth Company, 154th Battalion. Johnson did not see combat during the war, but served at Fort Greene, North Carolina and Fort Dix, New Jersey.
After his discharge in 1919, Johnson got married to his high school sweetheart Ida Dulany, and moved to California, first living in Fresno, where they farmed grapes for the Sunmaid cooperative. In 1927, Johnson and his wife opened a restaurant, George's Southern Kitchen, in Berkeley, although it failed after less than a year. He moved to San Francisco in April 1930, before they moved to Richmond, California in 1938. They never had any children (possibly due to an injury George had suffered as a teenager), and he lived in the three-story house in the (then) Richmond Annex he built until he died. The home, which has expansive views and the Bay is the largest in the area and was built with surplus lumber salvaged from around the Bay Area, including the 1939 Golden Gate International Exposition.
Later life and death
He attributed his longevity to clean living free from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Obituaries made much of his rich diet, which consisted of toaster waffles and sausage, but that was only in the final years of his life, in part because he detested the Meals on Wheels food and in part because he had lost his sight and the sausage and waffles were easier to consume.
Following the death of the 112-year-old Marion Higgins of Seal Beach on March 2, 2006, it was believed that George Johnson had become the oldest-known living Californian – a distinction he held until his own death at 112 as well. However, a woman about one month older, Gertrude Baines, was validated not long after he died, so George lost this status posthumously.
The doctor performing the autopsy on Johnson remarked how physically well he was – his internal organs were said to be in the condition of someone half his age. At his 112th birthday, surrounded by distant relatives he was unable to see, he was the life of the party and his mind was still quite sharp considering it contained more than a century of details.
UPI reports at the time of Johnson's death mistakenly stated that he was the last surviving American veteran of World War I. There were actually at least seventeen other known American World War I veterans who were still alive at the time of Johnson's death, though the Los Angeles Times reported that Johnson was the last World War I veteran in California.