Tribute to Gordon C. Johnson
Branch of Service: US Navy
Specialty: Radio Operator and Storekeeper, 3rd Class
Ships: USS Gratia, USS Rutland
Gordon C. Johnson was born December 1, 1926, in Rockford, Illinois. A Swedish American, he was the oldest of four children of Ebba and Sven Arvid Johnson. Gordon completed high school at Kewanee High School at 17 and was Salutatorian. He competed in basketball and football for the Boilermakers, playing in state championship games for both sports and was named to the “All State Football Team” as a tackle.
The day before he turned 18, Gordon Johnson enlisted in the United States Navy on November 30, 1944. Within days he was assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. After basic training, he moved to the University of Milwaukee for specialized training as a radio operator. His next stop was Camp Elliott, California. He stayed there until assignment to a transport ship which conveyed him to the Philippine Islands. He arrived in the Philippines on December 7, 1945.
The USS Gratia (A.K.) was his first assignment. One of the “Victory Ships,“ it had only a top speed of 8 knots. Rough water would cause the boat props to come out of the water occasionally and rattle the crew. The supply ship was desperate for storekeepers and when given a chance to change assignments, Gordon Johnson made the switch and was promoted to SK3 or Store Keeper, 3rd Class.
Below is a photo of the SS Lane Victory, the same class as the USS Gratia.
Johnson says, “our ship was a floating warehouse for naval supplies.” The Gratia supplied anything and everything to other ships in the Pacific Fleet. The navy ship was lightly armed with machine guns and one deck gun. Because the USS Gratia was busiest when in port, sailors had little time to enjoy the sights or activities available in the South Pacific. Gordon became known as the “ice cream man.” When at sea he became the steady supplier to the rest of the crew of one of the few treats available to a ship traveling from place to place.
Johnson toured Japan and visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki just a few months after the war ended. He served for a time in Japan as part of the Occupational Forces there. He switched ships to the USS Rutland, a troop ship, for his final duty. The Rutland transported marines and soldiers home from the war and in August of 1946, Gordon was discharged from the Navy.
Johnson received the Asiatic Pacific Area Campaign Medal, the Victory Medal, and the American Area Campaign Medal (pictured below in order listed) for his naval service.
In August of 1949, Gordon Johnson would marry Naomi Neville, a nurse who had served with the Nurse Corps for three years. Together they would have six children. Gordon taught at North Park Academy in Chicago and then at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kansas until his retirement. He now resides in Shawnee, Kansas.
Submitted by Tim Johnson (son)