Atascadero ceremony will be at Faces of Freedom; Paso Robles will have a drive-thru

NORTH COUNTY — Veterans Day will be celebrated in North County, but it will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Atascadero will have a ceremony on Wednesday, Nov. 11, but Paso Robles has shifted its ceremony to a drive-thru.

Each Nov. 11, the U.S. celebrates Veterans Day. In 1918 Armistice Day marked the end of World War II — The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

In 1954, Armistice Day was changed to Veterans Day to honor veterans from all wars.

Instead of the traditional ceremony at the Paso Robles District Cemetery, a drive-thru of the Avenue of Flags will be set up Wednesday by organizers. People can view the Flags throughout the Paso Robles District Cemetery and around town, put up by the Boy Scouts.

The Atascadero ceremony will be held at the Faces of Freedom memorial, located at 9029 Morro Rd, starting at 11 a.m. The ceremony includes a flag line by Welcome Home Military Heroes, the National Anthem by local artist Rebecca McKinley, a speech by John Couch, former Atascadero Chief of Police, and presentation of the Distinguished Veteran of the Year awards.

Atascadero will recognize two Distinguished Veterans of the Year — one, Ray Johnson, is being made public by the organizing committee while the other will be revealed at the ceremony.

The ceremony will conclude with a wreath presentation by the VFW Auxiliary and the playing of TAPS. The committee is recommending people attending the event social distance and wear face coverings.

Johnson was born and raised in Ripon and graduated from Ripon High School. After graduation from Modesto Junior College, he entered the Navy Flight Training program in Pensacola, Fla., in January 1958 as a Naval Aviation Cadet (NAVCAD). He received his wings and commission in July 1959.

He was assigned to an Anti-Submarine Helicopter squadron in San Diego for his first operational tour, flying the Sikorsky SH-34 helicopter. He deployed to the Western Pacific for two six month deployments. He deployed twice to Vietnam during this tour.

Johnson served in the Navy for almost 22 years, attaining the rank of commander, and retired from the Navy in 1979. Since Navy retirement, he was the director of a Christian military retreat center for eight years, a business consultant for 15 years and the CEO-president of San Luis Obispo County’s economic development corporation (EVC). He is a past-president of the Atascadero Rotary and past-board chair of the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce. He is an elder in his church, Atascadero Gospel Chapel. He served on the Atascadero City Council for eight years, three as the mayor.

Johnson was awarded the Citizen of the Year by the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce in 2006 and selected as a Chamber life member in 2018. Johnson and his wife, Helen, lived in Atascadero for 33 years.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles