Even four decades after retiring from military service, Dick Johnson is still working to hold things together for the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“Those are my suspenders,” Johnson said, motioning to a pair of red straps dangling from a pipe that are holding up a giant emblem that is part of a display honoring the Navy Reserve’s 100th anniversary at the PBY Memorial Foundation Museum in Oak Harbor.
Johnson, 82, finds it easier to crack a smile these days now that he no longer carries the weight of heavy responsibility that came during his naval career.
At one time, he was in select company, holding the position of U.S. Navy Reserve Master Chief Petty Officer, the highest ranking an enlisted man could hold in the naval reserve.
Johnson was the first to carry that title, from 1973 to 1975, which gave him the responsibility of advising the Chief of Navy Reserve on matters affecting enlisted personnel in the Navy Reserve as well as promoting core values of the Navy to all sailors.
He was good at that, firmly believing that the Navy’s chain of command was not meant to be tweaked.
His strict adherence to the Navy way and leadership style moved him up the ranks.
“I found that in different units I was stationed with, a lot of people thought, ‘Ah, it’s just a civilian job,’ ” Johnson said. “I always said, ‘No, this is the Navy. You signed a contract, you affirmed your oath and you do things the Navy way, not like a civilian. We’re not a democratic society.’ ”
Johnson has been involved with community causes in and around Oak Harbor ever since his retirement in 1977.
He will serve as the grand marshal in today’s Veterans Day parade through downtown at 11 a.m., recognizing his 26 years in the Navy Reserve during is centennial year and his continued commitment to help veteran causes.
He is a lifetime member of the Oak Harbor chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV), helps maintain the Island County Veterans Memorial in Coupeville by promoting its brick sales and volunteers as the PBY museum’s collections manager.
“He heads up what we call our collections management team,” said Wil Shellenberger, president of the
PBY Memorial Foundation. “That involves the storage and handling of all of our artifacts, which is frankly the heart of any museum.”
Johnson’s Navy uniform is part of the Navy Reserve exhibit, resting on a mannequin that lacks facial features.
Johnson laughs at the expressionless object, knowing there were many times that he was required to be authoritarian and firm.
“But I was fair,” Johnson said.
“If you want to make an enlisted man tremble in their boots, tell them the master chief is upset with them,” said Shellenberger, a retired naval officer. “Tell them an officer is upset with them, they’ll shrug their shoulders.”
Gladys Johnson, Johnson’s wife of 61 years, has only known a loving man.
“It’s been a wonderful 61 years,” she said. “He’s been a wonderful husband. He’s a very good father and grandfather. I’m very proud of him.”
The Johnsons have three children, 29 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren scattered across the country.
There are four generations of service members in the family, starting with Johnson’s father, a World War I veteran.
Johnson was stationed twice at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, including his final two years in the service. He was full-time active duty in his final 20 years spent in the Navy Reserve.
He and his wife have settled in Oak Harbor ever since.
“I consider what’s taking place on Saturday as an honor. It really is,” Johnson said his grand marshal selection.
“I’m a pretty low-key guy.”
Oak Harbor’s fourth Veterans Day parade will start at 11 a.m. today, Nov. 7 in downtown. The parade starts near the intersection of Pioneer Way and Midway Boulevard and continues along Pioneer until it reaches the Ace Hardware parking lot. Oak Harbor’s Dick Johnson, the first force master chief in the Navy Reserve, is the parade grand marshal. About 50 entries composed of about 200-250 people will participate in the parade. Entries include three color guards, Whidbey Island Naval Air Station commanding officer Michael Nortier, a drumline and three motorcycle groups.