With the country increasingly divided over the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon launched a massive air attack on North Vietnam the week before Christmas in 1972, sending B-52 bombers over Hanoi in wave after wave.
Over the next two weeks, 1,000 Vietnamese died. On one night alone, 2,000 homes were destroyed.
That Christmas Eve, lawyer Vincent E. Johnson, his wife Ruby, and their 10 children attended a candlelight antiwar vigil at the Federal Building in Minneapolis.
His son Tim Johnson, of Aspen, Colo., then 7 years old, remembers being upset he had to go, as it interfered with their Christmas traditions. Years later, he came to appreciate the protest.
“It was a very memorable Christmas,” he said. “It taught me a lot about taking a stand.”
Vincent Johnson, of Golden Valley, died Sept. 18 from congestive heart failure. He was 97. His children remember him as a warmhearted man who stood up for his principles and conveyed them to his family.
“Two world wars and nothing has changed,” he’d often say, according to son Ted Johnson, of Washington, D.C. “We are still fighting.”
Johnson was an Army Air Corps sergeant stationed in Guam during WWII, although he did not see combat.
He initially supported U.S. involvement in Vietnam, but turned against it as the escalations continued and he became worried that two of his sons would be drafted.
“It dawned on him: This is a civil war in Vietnam,” said Patrick Johnson of Excelsior, another son who later became a member of his father’s law firm.
In 1952, Vincent Johnson and Robert Speeter founded Speeter & Johnson, a Minneapolis law firm that specialized in serving family businesses. The two men also helped form a lawyers’ antiwar group. They raised money for U.S. Sen. Eugene McCarthy’s unsuccessful antiwar presidential campaign in 1968 and lobbied Washington lawmakers.
In 1971, Johnson joined a mass march in Washington. The Speeter family also attended the 1972 Christmas vigil. “My mom said no one was going to come over for our traditional Christmas Eve celebration unless we all showed up at the protest at the Federal Building,” said Cheryl Speeter Margoles of St. Louis Park, a daughter of Johnson’s partner, who was an activist herself. She’s also an attorney at the firm.
Johnson also opposed U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnson graduated from DeLaSalle High School in Minneapolis, the University of St. Thomas, and the University of Minnesota law school.
After the Vietnam War ended, his family hosted two Hmong teenage boys who were refugees.
“He was involved in the community in so many ways,” said daughter Barb Nafstad of Plymouth.
Johnson was a founding member and president of the Serra Club of North-Minneapolis, which supports the vocation of priesthood in the Catholic Church, and a board member of Saint Therese senior living community in New Hope. He co-chaired the campaign to build St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Golden Valley.
Johnson is preceded in death by his wife Ruby, who died in 2013.
“My mom was also very much a social activist,” said daughter Paula Carlson of Plymouth. “It was not unusual for them to speak their minds about anything.”
Other survivors include daughters Karen Johnson and Bonnie Johnson, both of Maple Grove; and sons Allen Johnson of Lenexa, Kan.; Joseph Johnson of Minneapolis; and Thomas Johnson of Bakersfield, Calif.
Services have been held.