Glen Johnson of Tropic Palm mobile-home park, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. went to war right out of high school in mid-July 1943. After boot camp he and a group of other sailors took a banana boat to Pearl Harbor. His destroyer hadn’t returned with the fleet from fighting the Japanese at Tarawa Atoll.
For the next two years Machinist Mate Johnson would serve as the throttleman in the forward engine-room of the USS John Rodgers (DD-574), a Fletcher-Class destroyer, that took part in many of the major engagements in the Pacific during World War II. By war’s end the crew of the Rodgers wore a dozen battle stars on their chests. Johnson participated in eight of those engagements.
“My first battle was Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. We watched the Marines go ashore while sitting off the beach providing fire support for the ‘Leathernecks,'” the 90-year-old recalled. “They were trying to take a Jap pillbox. Six or eight of them got knocked down, but immediately other Marines took their places.
“They finally got their flamethrower-man close enough to the enemy bunker to hit it with flame. When they captured it all of us aboard the Rodgers cheered.”
By Feb. 8, 1944 the American flag flew over Kwajalein. The Marines owned the island.
New Guinea was next for Johnson and the crew of the Rodgers. It was a six months blood bath from April 18 until Oct. 2, 1944.
“At one point the crew was allowed to go ashore. Each of us was give a couple of hot beers. Every once and a while we got a little time off and a couple of beers,” Johnson recalled.
“I was walking around in the jungle on New Guinea when I ran into a water buffalo standing in a pond,” he said. The buffalo was drinking water, but when he saw me he stopped. I got to thinking, that wasn’t a good place for me to be.
“After that, our ship was in the middle of the ‘Great Marianas Turkey Shoot’ in the Philippine Sea. It started June 12, 1944 and our destroyer, the Rodgers, downed six enemy planes itself,” he recalled.
By the time the battle was over 956 American aircraft confronted 750 Japanese planes. During the initial attack on the American fleet the Japanese lost 41 aircraft and only dropped a single bomb that hit the Battleship South Dakota. In a second wave 107 enemy fighters attacked the U.S. fleet almost immediately and 97 more were splashed. In the final Japanese attack of 82 planes only nine returned to their carriers.
Some 30 American aircraft were lost in the shootout, but the Japanese losses totaled 346 planes. American submarines also sent two of their first line carriers to the bottom during the battle. The Imperial Navy was in dire straits.
“After the ‘Turkey Shoot’ we went to the Philippines. Seven days after D-Day in the Philippines an American Marine’s body came to the surface and floated by our ship,” Johnson said. “The skipper sent three of us in a whale boat to bring the body back.
“A decayed body after a week smells so bad it makes you upchuck right now. We put a line around the body and drug it over to where bodies were being collected on a nearby barge. We were told they had too many bodies and were sent on our way. We found a second barge and we were told the same thing,” he said.
“So we took what was left of the the dead Marine and drug his body up on Leyte Beach. We placed his dog tags on his chest, put his arms across his chest and left him there. Then we went back to the Rodgers.”
It was there on Leyte Beach Johnson lost his best friend in the service. Jimmy Woodbridge was from Marquette, Mich. just like Johnson.
“My brother married his younger sister. He was killed by a Jap sniper while bringing ammo ashore for his Army unit,” he recalled with a grimace.
“When we arrived off Iwo Jima the Japanese were starting to put the kamikazes to good use. What I remember most about Iwo is the Japs wouldn’t let us sleep. They’d keep us up at night by sending ‘Washing-machine Charlie’ over. When they did we’d have to go to battle stations at all hours of the night.
“After Iwo Jima we sailed for Okinawa and more of the same. Lots of kamikazes and firing on designated enemy targets on the island. I had a buddy who was a Marine on Okinawa. He told me, ‘I’m glad I’m here on the beach instead of where you are aboard ship because of the kamikazes.’ The kamikazes were coming after us bad.”
Ten days later his Marine buddy was severely injured when shot in the arm by an enemy bullet.
“After Okinawa it was a busy time for us. The fleet headed for the Japanese home islands. Adm. ‘Bull’ Halsey was in command.
“After we dropped the Atomic Bombs on Japan we sailed into Tokyo Bay to take part in the surrender ceremony. We didn’t get to see the signing aboard the Battleship Missouri because we were too far away,” Johnson said.
“I expected when we entered Tokyo Bay the whole place would blow up. It didn’t happen,” he said. “While in the bay we got word our ship was sailing back to Boston.”
The USS John Rodgers sailed past many of the Pacific Islands it had taken during the war and on through the Panama Canal. They dropped off passengers on their way up the east coast of the U.S.
“I remember when we reached New York Harbor there were big transport ships with bands aboard playing for the returning troops. Water cannons on fire boats were shooting plumes of water in all directions during the celebration. We dropped off the last of our people aboard ship and sailed for Boston.
“When we got to Boston they gave us a 17-day leave. said. “I returned to my parents’ home at 4 a.m. They didn’t know I was coming.
“After our leave I went back to the ship and we took the Rodgers down to Charleston, S.C. where she was put in mothballs. On the way down we got 35 knots out of her. I went to Great Lakes Receiving Center (outside Chicago) on Dec. 5 where I was discharged. I reached home two days later, Dec. 7, 1945–‘Pearl Harbor Day!'”
For the next 40 years Johnson worked as a machinist for Lakeshore Engineering in Marquette, Mich. The firm manufactured mining equipment.
After his retirement several years ago he and his wife, Sally, moved to the Punta Gorda area. She died this year after 71 years of marriage. They got hitched New Year’s Eve 1942. The couple has four children: Glynis, Linnell, Gerald and Lori.
Name: Glen O. Johnson
D.O.B: 11 Aug. 1924
Hometown: Marquette, Mich.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 19 July 1943
Discharged: 4 Feb. 1945
Rank: Machinist’s Mate 3C(T)
Unit: USS John Rodgers (DD-574)
Commendations: Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Bar – 8 Bronze Stars representing 8 major battles Philippine Liberation Ribbon – 2 Bronze Stars, American Area Ribbon, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Aboard USS Rodgers: Marcus Island, Tarawa Island, Wake Island, Empress Auguste Bay, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Kwajalein Atoll, Bismark Archipelago, Wester New Guinea Operations, Marianas Operation, Leyte Operation, Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Raids on Japanese Mainland–Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu and Tokyo Bay Area Occupatiuon.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, May 18, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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BIG BAY, MI – Glen Owen Johnson, age 91, of Big Bay, entered eternal life Sunday evening, July 31, 2016, at the Marquette County Medical Care Facility in Ishpeming.
Glen was born August 11, 1924, in Marquette, a son of Arthur Milliam and Lyda Bertha (Anderson) Johnson. He was a graduate of Graveraet High School where he played football, ran track, and enjoyed baseball. A “leftie” in the pitching ranks, Glen proved to be a very good underhand pitcher, later pitching an entire championship game at Hurley Field in the 1950’s, all by himself as no relief pitcher was available.
Following his high school graduation, Glen joined the US Navy and just prior to being shipped out, married his high school sweetheart, Florence A. “Sally” Chartier on December 31, 1942.
He proudly served his country during World War II and received the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Bar with 8 Bronze Stars, Philippine Liberation Ribbon with 2 Bronze Stars, American Area Ribbon, and World War II Victory Medal, and was honorably discharged with the rank of Machinist Mate 3C.
Returning to Marquette, the couple made their home here and Glen began an over 32 year career with Lake Shore, Inc. as a machinist. Following his retirement, Glen and Sally spent their time between Arizona and their cottage in Big Bay for 30 years.
In the last couple of years, they moved their winter home to Punta Gorda, Florida to be close to two of their children. They loved Lake Independence and summers in Big Bay were always filled with visits from family members, friends, and especially the grandchildren. Five o’clock brought snacks and cocktails and a game of cribbage with Sally, then the day was completed with a game of Jeopardy, which Sally was really good at.
In his leisure, Glen enjoyed playing cards, especially cribbage, bowling, hunting, fishing, and a good game of horseshoes, which he became proficient at from spending his lunch hours at Lake Shore perfecting his game. He was an enthusiastic fan of the Detroit Tigers, Green Bay Packers, and Detroit Red Wings. Glen was a lifetime member of the American Legion and a 47 year member of the Elks.
Survivors include four children, Glynis Carano-Cole (Chuck Cole) of Antelope, CA, Linnell Johnson (Judy) of Manistique, MI, Gerald Johnson (Patricia) of Punta Gorda, FL, and Loreen Wiberg (Bill) of Punta Gorda, FL; his grandchildren and extended family grandchildren, Cheryl Baker (Phil) of Antelope, CA, Michelle Kidd (Jerry) of Alabama, Steve Carano (Andrea) of Roseville, CA, Sean Johnson of Fort Myers, FL, Aaron Johnson (Amanda) of Fort Myers, FL, Lindsey Johnson of St Petersburg, FL, Melissa Jordan (Steve) of West Allis, WI, Nicole Victorino (Greg) of Oakland, CA, Ronnie and BJ Gould, Missy Waters, Becky Frost, Michelle Little, Andrew, Mike and Nicholaus Wiberg, Casino and Bobby Cole. 18 great-grandchildren, Amanda, Jessica and Mathew Baker, Brianna Bennett, Logan and Lauren Kidd, Adelyn, Carter Carano, Javin, Jonah, Lachlin Johnson, Michael Adkins, Owen Johnson, Parker, Phoebe, and Holden Jordan, Kealia and Kloe Victorino, Lincoln, Coraline, and Cooper Wiberg, Skyler Lewis, Bristol, Coty, Clay and Austin, Haley, Megan, Autum, Spencer, Madison, Calvin, Katie, Chad, Jacob, Chelsea; a sister-in-law, Sadie Merchant of Marquette; several nieces and nephews, great and great great nieces and nephews and many friends.
Glen was preceded in death by his parents; wife, Sally on October 3, 2014; a grandson, Lonny Greene; great-grandson, Phillip Baker; sister, Ferne (the late Victor) Vermuellen; and brothers, Lowell Johnson, Garnet (the late Frances) Johnson, and Gerald (the late Marjorie) Johnson.
The family will receive relatives and friends at the Swanson-Lundquist Funeral Home on Monday, August 8, beginning at 10 a.m. until the time of service at 11 a.m. Rev. Carolyn Raffensperger will officiate. Veteran’s honors will be accorded by members of the American Legion and the Vietnam Veterans of America. A reception will follow in the reception room located at the funeral home.
Memorials may be directed to Disabled American Veterans Chapter 22, 425 Fisher Street, Marquette, MI 49855. Condolences may be expressed online at swansonlundquistfuneral home.com.