Veterans Spotlight, February 19, 2021

Seaman Sam Johnson US Navy

Mr. Samuel N. Johnson, who at age 100 lives alone, drives his own car and does his own shopping, served his country as a member of the US Navy in the Pacific Theater from 1942 to 1945.

After growing up in Pittsfield, Mr. Johnson was 21 when he initially signed up for the Navy V5 program (a program for Navy fliers) and passed all the tests. However, his number was coming up soon in the Army draft. He went to the Navy office in his hometown and signed up. He was called up a couple of weeks later, then was sent off to basic at the Naval Training Center in Newport, Rhode Island. Prior to his arrival, he remembered, “We got examined, tested, and poked…spent the night in a hotel…they gave us chits for breakfast and dinner…next morning we took a five-plus-hour ride to Newport…no interstate back then.

“First day, we spent learning how to lash up our hammocks…you’d hear a crash and that’s because one of the guys hadn’t done it right.”

Mr. Johnson was designated an electrician’s mate and stayed in Newport for school. “The Navy must have read where I worked for General Electric back in Pittsfield and decided I should work with electricity,” he recalled.

Mr. Johnson shared a humorous story about school: “We had an instructor that had long service in the Navy…you could tell by the hashmarks on his arm…got promoted to chief petty officer and went into town to celebrate…next morning, he staggers into class in his new uniform and began making incoherent remarks…the school commanding officer comes into to the back of the room…the chief looked up, saw the CO (commanding officer) and tells the class…’If the relays don’t work, pull like hell on the oars’…his head hit the desk and we never saw him again.”

Asked about the holidays, Mr. Johnson replied, “We graduated on December 24, 1942…I was eighth in my class of 100…we were getting ready to go on leave…all you heard was the song ‘White Christmas’…in the barracks, mess halls…it was everywhere…every time I hear that song, it’s a reminder of that Christmas,” he said.

Mr. Johnson was sent to Portsmouth, Virginia. About a week later, he and other seamen boarded an old freight scow named the Lillian Ann and headed to the Solomon Islands, where the Navy had established the first amphibious training base. “All we got was a slice of baloney between two slices of bread with coffee…and the coffee was lukewarm!” he remembered.

He would later sail for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the LST-181 (tank landing ship) for training exercises with six other LSTs under radio silence. His ship would ultimately make stops in Bora Bora, Pago Pago, Suva (in the Fiji Islands) and New Caledonia, then dropped anchor in Brisbane, Queensland (Australia).

Crewmembers were always on alert for Japanese submarines. “Another time we were coming back from the Admiralty islands invasion and we had to pass by some Japanese-held islands…they started shelling us…we were well out of range…I sat on the deck drinking coffee watching the arc of the shells…like watching fireworks…the 181 was in the second wave several hours after the first assault on the beach…the Japanese Army was in full retreat,” he remembered.

There were many other missions and assignments.

His thoughts on the war ending? “I was back in the States, stationed at Fort McHenry…listened to all the news on the radio,” he said.

Mr. Johnson, a widower, lives in East Falmouth. He was married to his wife Betty for 67 years The couple had six children, 15 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Mr. Samuel N. Johnson, thank you for your service to our great country, sir.

Contact Wayne Soares at waynesoares1@gmail.com

Contact Wayne Soares at waynesoares1@gmail.com

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