Shepherd, soldier, father

Centenarian recalls a time of strong people, ambitious sheep

PIÑON, Ariz.

For a young man who never went to war interviewing an old veteran, the temptation is to go straight to the details of the hardship of deployment, the rigors of combat, or what it’s like to take a life.

But to focus on the six years of World War II, you could miss something in a story that spans a century.

Fred Johnson Sr. turned 100 on Feb. 15.

At his home in Piñon, he told his story from the beginning.

Johnson was born “across this little canyon here,” he said, pointing toward the back of the house as his daughter, Linda King, translated his Navajo.

He said he grew up in the area and remembered a nearby trading post becoming the commercial center of the area. He started herding sheep at four years old.

“I asked him, what did you used to do during the day? And he said, ‘I was herding sheep,’” King said.

He learned ancestral ways from his parents, up with the dawn for as long as he could remember. As he grew older, he began running each morning.

“Even before he built a fire, he would go out there,” King said.

When he got back to the house on a snowy day after a run, he said his father let him know that the trial didn’t end there. Before warming himself by the fire, he had to take it to another level.

“Don’t get near the fire,” his father told him. “Go outside and stand under a tree and shake the tree and let the snow fall on you.”

Categories: People

About Author

Christopher S. Pineo

Reporter Christopher S. Pineo's beats include education, construction, the executive branch, and pop culture. He also administers the Navajo Times Facebook page. In the diverse neighborhoods of Boston, Pineo worked, earned a master’s in journalism, and gained 10 years of newspaper experience. He can be reached at