Ken Johnson holds up a quilt he received from Quilts of Valor. The Turkey Creek native served in the Philippines during the Vietnam War as a member of the United States Air Force. (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
According to lore, Benjamin Franklin lobbied for the turkey be the national bird of the newly created United States. The bald eagle eventually won out, but the affinity of the turkey quickly spread throughout the country. Three communities in the country also have turkey in its name, and one of them is here in Evangeline Parish.
Former Turkey Creek Chief of Police Ken Johnson said the woods around the village used to be full of turkeys. With the amount of hunting, however, there are not many anymore.
Turkey Creek was once a thriving community with a school and a sawmill but is now sitting idle on a long forgotten highway.
Johnson’s life is a mirror image of the village reflecting times of prosperity and hardship. He was born in Turkey Creek but soon moved with his mother to Forest Hill. At the age of 13, he moved back to Turkey Creek to live with his father. That living arrangement was rocky at best.
Three days after Johnson’s 17th birthday, his dad drug him out of the Pentecostal church. The two of them got into a physical altercation outside the church.
“When he left to go to work the next morning,” Johnson said I left to go to the post office here and met the Air Force recruiter. I got in the car with him, went take all my tests, and passed my physical. We came back through Hineston where my mother lived, and she signed some papers. We came back through here, and my dad was gone.”
Johnson continued, “Three weeks later, I came back home for his funeral. He got killed in Easton on that middle bridge. They took him to Ville Platte, but Ville Platte wouldn’t doctor him because, I guess, he didn’t have insurance. They sent him to Lafayette, but, before he could get to Lafayette, he died. He broke a rib, and it punctured a lung.”
After that, Johnson went to Tampa, Fla., before being shipped to the Philippines during the Vietnam War where he flew support missions.
“I met an airplane twice a week loaded with bodies,” Johnson said. “They had an embalming facility in the Philippines, and they didn’t have anything in Vietnam. They would just fly those bodies across, and we’d take care of them in the Philippines.”
Johnson planned on making a career out of the Air Force, but others had different plans. As he said, “My first wife got me out on a hardship discharge. She told her dad that she wanted me home. He was a 32nd Degree Mason, so they got me out. “
“I was called into the motor pool in the Philippines,” continued Johnson, “and the orderly told me to pack nothing but civilian clothes. I went pack, and, 36 hours later, I stepped off a plane in Tampa and signed some papers. I was a civilian, but I had just reenlisted about a year before that.”
Johnson stayed in Tampa for 22 years before moving back to Turkey Creek. His first job back was working on the high lines, and then he first got involved in the community.
“There was nothing for our kids to do,” he said. “I got together with some friends of mine, and we built a ball park. Me and about five or six of my friends built our kids a place to play.”
Over the years, Johnson became more involved in the community by serving as a village councilman appointee to finish unexpired terms. When Chief of Police Elton Deville passed away, Johnson then was appointed to the position.
Johnson continued to serve as chief for about the next 15 years. “I knew everybody, and everybody knew me,” he said. “It was a friendship deal. I really didn’t come up on anything that was really rough. I’d call the sheriff’s department or Pine Prairie, and they would send some back up.”
To help offset the chief’s salary, Johnson had a part-time job hauling flowers for nurseries in Forest Hill. “I’d leave on a Monday morning with a load of flowers and was back by Tuesday night,” he said.
Johnson reached an agreement with former Evangeline Parish Sheriff Wayne Morein to watch Turkey Creek while he was gone. In return, Johnson, as a sheriff’s deputy, would come back and patrol around Clearwater, Lone Pine, and other areas in the northern end of the parish.
Now that he is retired, Johnson remains involved in the community and can be found every month on the side bench during village council meetings.
For Johnson, everything he does for the village is because it is a special place. He concluded, “It’s real close to my heart. I know every inch of it, and I know most of the people. I just love the way it was set up.”