‘………..Jordan Chiasson bought the Second World War helmet in an army surplus store and returned it to George Johnston a year before the veteran died in February at 94.
By: Eric Andrew-Gee Staff Reporter,
The helmet protected George Johnston on battlefields across Western Europe and, through the kindness of a stranger, provided comfort to the veteran again at the end of his life.
Now, after an unlikely voyage across continents and generations, it’s back in the hands of Jordan Chiasson, the young man who reunited Johnston with a piece of his past.
Born more than seven decades apart, the two men were united by the gift and struck up an unlikely friendship that lasted until Johnston passed away in February at 94.
Irene Sawler, Johnston’s niece, gave Chiasson the helmet in an emotional ceremony at the end of her uncle’s funeral at Sherwood’s Chapel near Moncton.
“I don’t know who was crying harder, him or me, when I handed it to him,” she told the Star on Sunday from her home in Norton, N.B. “He started saying, ‘Thank you. Thank you.’”
Chiasson, a Second World War memorabilia collector, found the historic headwear two years ago in an army surplus store near Moncton, and, after some research, discovered that its original owner was not only still alive, but living in a nearby New Brunswick town.
That stroke of serendipity brought joy to the 93-year-old in his final months, and Johnston decided that after his death, Chiasson should have the helmet back.
During his funeral service, which was filmed, Rev. Karen MacNeill described the helmet’s importance to Johnston, who is survived by his wife Annie.
“There’s George, beginning to wonder if the world has forgotten him, because he hasn’t left his house in months. And someone brings him a piece of his own past,” MacNeill said. “It just invigorated him for months — it just reminded him he wasn’t forgotten.”
Johnston didn’t like to talk about the war, Sawler said. But details of how he first came to wear the helmet that was returned to him 70 years later have trickled out over the years.
On June 6, 1944, Johnston participated in the D-Day landings and began moving with the Allied armies through France. At a refueling depot that summer, a Nazi bombardment sent him scuttling under a truck for cover. One blast lifted him and the truck off the ground. When they landed, Johnston’s helmet was dented by the machine’s undercarriage.
His closest friend in the Army couldn’t reach shelter fast enough and was killed, Sawler said.
Johnston sported his replacement helmet through Belgium, the Netherlands, and finally into Berlin at the end of the war.
It isn’t clear how the memento, so freighted with significance for Johnston, ended up in an army surplus store, but that’s where Chiasson found it in 2013.
The 22-year-old Moncton resident said Johnston’s helmet sat on a shelf for months after he bought it. Only when he took it down for a cleaning one day did Chiasson notice the name inscribed in the helmet’s olive paint.
With help from Library and Archives Canada, he tracked Johnston down and drove to the veteran’s house one day last year.
“I sat in my car for a little bit,” Chiasson said, “to get the nerves gone I guess.”
Johnston was so excited to have the helmet back, he ran towards Chiasson as fast as his walker would carry him.
“He was very surprised and very happy to receive it back,” Sawler said.
The men kept in touch, and when Johnston suffered a stroke later in the year, his young friend visited him in the hospital. And when Chiasson graduated college in June with an IT diploma, the Johnston family sent him a card.
“He just liked the young guy, and they got along good,” Sawler said.
“He is a sweetheart,” she said of Chiasson. “You couldn’t ask for a nicer person.”
In February, Chiasson drove from Moncton for Johnston’s funeral.
Receiving the helmet from Sawler was a moving culmination to their story.
“She just made me start crying,” said Chiasson. “I couldn’t talk.”
“It was a very emotional celebration.”……’