MANKATO — Clarence F. Johnson of North Mankato is one of those guys who’ll bend your ear with stories about his trips to all 50 states, the farm he operated near Lake Crystal, what it’s been like to be a Shriner, and his upcoming 91st birthday in December.
And he’s one of those guys who needs a little coaxing to get him to tell you about his military service.
Johnson joined up in 1943 and served until 1946. His modesty can get in the way when he starts his story — he’ll tell you his career in the Navy wasn’t hard work.
“I was in Panama for a year. I worked for the Port Directors when they needed help,” Johnson said recently, while reminiscing at his home.
“Navy ships would dock overnight and the sailors would come ashore,” said Johnson, who was in his early 20s at that time. “Then we would put on badges.”
Let’s just say his shore patrol duty story got a little salty when he described the women he was to keep sailors away from.
Johnson was in Panama when the U.S. presence was at its greatest in the canal zone, a location vital to the movement of troops to the Pacific war areas, according to information from the Panama Canal Museum.
After serving in Central America, Johnson went back to the States, where he got aboard “a brand new ship in Mississippi” — the USS Griggs, an APA-110 transport.
“We took troops out and brought back wounded for two years,” Johnson said.
His shipmates and he were in a port near Okinawa the evening before a treaty was signed with the Japanese.
“Four Jap suicide planes flew in,” Johnson said. They were shot down, but not before two ships were hit. “One was right beside us.”