When 95-Year-old WWII veteran Johnnie Dimas lost his full-time caregiver and wife of 67 years, there didn’t seem to be many options, other than to move out of his house and into a nursing home.
But, he and his late wife had always vowed that they would never go into a home—so his grandson Roger Gilbert devised a plan.
He moved Grandpa Johnnie from Illinois to live with Roger and his wife Jo, in Sedona, Arizona two years ago.
And, last October they decided to embark on an epic journey around the USA in their motor home, visiting all of the places on their grandfather’s bucket list.
Knowing that time was limited, the unlikely trio explored and experienced as much as they could together—from Mardi Gras to Las Vegas, to an encounter with a camel named Roger at a dairy farm on the Mexican border, where he was completely enamored with the animal.
Most importantly, they got to visit several World War II museums where Johnnie was “treated like a rock star.” He was also fortunate enough to meet a fellow WWII vet there.
“I think it was deeply cathartic for Grandpa to be able to process everything that had happened at such a young age,” Jo told GNN.
Johnnie enlisted in the U.S. Marines at the age of 17—and due to his young age, his father had to sign him up. He served in Guam where he was wounded and was sent back to the States to recover in a V.A. hospital. He had severe PTSD and was treated with electric shock therapy—until he “witnessed a friend and fellow soldier being carried out on a stretcher.” Afterward, he discharged himself from the hospital and went home.
Before loading his wheelchair into the motorhome for their trip, they dubbed their vehicle the ‘Sweet Mary Bus,’ for Johnnie’s late wife.
“Grandpa used to call her ‘Sweety’, so we named it after her and got a license plate with the name. It made him cry.”
Some of their favorites stops turned out to be Tombstone Arizona; White Sands, New Mexico; and the Texas cities of San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas.
They loved El Paso, Texas—particularly the Rosa Cantina, which is featured in the song ‘El Paso’.
One sentimental day, the Sweet Mary Bus rolled into Waco, Texas, where Grandpa Johnnie was born and raised.
“Grandpa loved food and so we had a blast in Louisiana—trying crawfish, alligator, as well as all the things New Orleans is known for.”
They toured the Louisiana swamps on an airboat, and enjoyed the Mardi Gras celebrations, before heading back to Arizona.
“I can honestly say that caring for Grandpa was the hardest and most rewarding thing we have ever done,” Jo says. “Caring for someone 24/7 is a very difficult job, but it also teaches you to be selfless.”
“Grandpa taught us both so many things,” says Jo. “With the joy and contentment he felt in sitting by a campfire, or the sweet moments spent feeding popcorn to the ducks, he taught me that the simple times, the quiet moments in life are the ones to value.”
“It was such an honor to see how people respected his service in WWII, and how fascinated they were by him and his stories. As we walked down the street people would stop Grandpa, shake his hand and thank him for his service. They didn’t often stop long enough to see how Johnnie would always well up with emotion and gratitude for their kind words, it touched him so deeply every time.”
At a WWII aircraft hangar-turned-museum in Texas, the young lady who helped run the place was so delighted to meet someone who’d lived through WWII that she gave Johnnie a personal tour and a tee shirt.
“She was thrilled to take photos with him, and before we left she said that meeting Grandpa had made her year! It was here that Grandpa also got his favorite mug: It simply said in big red letters “To hell with Hitler” and made him laugh every morning without fail when he drank his coffee.”
The 96 year-old passed away this year on August 16th. Their next planned trip was to visit Graceland, the home of his biggest idol—Elvis. He was so excited to go, but his deteriorating health wouldn’t allow for it. But in a final “sweet kiss from God”, Roger and Jo realized that Grandpa died the same day Elvis did, 43 years later—and he would have been tickled by that.