Capt. Mark asks, "Who's on The Island?"

Capt. Mark Robinson
Posted 8/15/13

God Bless America, and God bless those men and women whom have defended this great nation, and kept us safe.  One such person is a gentleman I recently met, named Whit Johnson.  While enjoying our Sunday morning buffet breakfast at the Perdido …

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Capt. Mark asks, "Who's on The Island?"


God Bless America, and God bless those men and women whom have defended this great nation, and kept us safe.  One such person is a gentleman I recently met, named Whit Johnson.  While enjoying our Sunday morning buffet breakfast at the Perdido Beach Resort, we met and talked to Whit and his wife Carol, who were eating at the table beside us.  We introduced ourselves. The more we talked, the more I came to believe that Whit had a story that needed to be told, and that he was a person who deserved to be thanked.

He was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1929, and brought up in Torrington, Conn.  He just turned 84 this past July.  His dad graduated from Cornell University in 1921, and became a residential architect.  Whit’s mom, was a stay-at-home housewife. Johnson’s older brother now lives in Bradenton, Florida; a younger sister has passed away.

Upon graduating from high school Whit spent the following two years at Montana State College, then two years at the University of Pennsylvania where he was to receive his degree in Architectural Design.  However, it was a five year course -- and the Korean War was cranking up.  Knowing he would be drafted, he enlisted in the Navy.  He heard about the Naval Cadet aviation program (NAVCAD). He applied, and was accepted. 

In 1954 he graduated the program, received his wings, and got a commission as an Ensign USNR.  He proudly served in the Navy for 23 years, and retired June 30, 1975 with the rank of Commander. Johnson ended his flying career with 4000 (that’s THOUSAND!) flight hours and 375 day and night carrier landings. 

Graduating from the Aviation Cadet program in June, 1954 his first assignment was VS30, and Air Anti Submarine Squadron located in NAS Norfolk (VA).  He trained on flying the plane known as the S2F “Tracker”.  It was a twin engine carrier based prop plane in an air Anti Sub squadron used to hunt, track, and destroy enemy submarines.  He was attached to that unit for 4 years with service from one aircraft carrier to another, unfailingly meeting the demands of the Service.

Wanting some shore time for a change, he requested he be assigned to the School of Preflight. He was assigned an Instructor’s billet in Water Survival at the Pensacola Navy base.  It was a wonderful three years where he came to love the Gulf Coast. He knew right then that this was where he’d settle down one day.   

From Pensacola he was sent to Naples, Italy as part of a VR24 Detachment (COD) where he spent 3 more years flying a C1A twin engine Grumman prop plane doing Carrier on-board delivery of logistical supplies (including personnel, mail, and supplies) to seaward carrier groups operating in the Mediterranean Sea.  Landing on an Aircraft carrier in calm seas was somewhat routine after making as many landings as he did; but at night, especially in rough weather, it was another story. 

Whit mentioned that night landings are probably the most intense phase of Naval Aviation.  Coming aboard at night is an experience you just do not forget.  The “Have a good flight” message as they left their base in Naples became “Don’t get wet”.   Whit loved Italy (“I’d go back in a heartbeat”), and he learned to speak Italian well enough to fool the natives.  Prior to leaving Italy, he received his promotion to Lt. Commander.

From Italy it was back to the States and to Glenview, Illinois where he was assigned to recruiting for the Naval Air NAVCAD program.  It was there that he received his final promotion to the grade of Commander.  It was there that he also  experienced first hand the demonstrations at the college campuses against the War in Viet Nam.  I asked him his feelings about the demonstrations and he said he accepted their feelings and knew we were blessed to live in a society where we could demonstrate and express our feelings publically as long as we did it peacefully.

From recruiting, he went to Washington  DC to the Naval District Washington Staff at the Washington Navy Yard.  He was Public Affairs Officer for the Commandant.  It was one of his most rewarding assignments as he was involved in processing our POWs returning from Viet Nam at Bethesda Naval Hospital. 

“Privacy was our main concern,” said Whit.  He mentioned the POWs were put in a max security area and given as much privacy as they needed. “They were treated very special, especially just prior to being sent to their homes. Reuniting with family, individual treatment, and attention to their needs was our TOP PRIORITY.”

Some had been prisoners for as long as seven years in a Viet Nam prison called “The Hanoi Hilton”, and were given whatever treatments they needed to be able to bring them back into society.   He asked many “What was it you missed most during those 6 years in a Viet Nam prison?” and was surprised that their universal reply was “color”.  Everything was gray in confinement….

From Washington Johnson was sent back to Pensacola where he was on the staff of the Chief of Naval Education training.  Finally in 1975, after a distinguished Naval career, he retired.  He was ready. 

Whit loved the Navy, had not a single complaint, but due to a reduction of forces he was given the option to retire.  He bought a house on the Island and settled down to staying in one place and becoming a viable part of the community.  On February 13, 1978 -- Friday the 13th -- he walked into the Mustin Officer’s club at Penscola Navy base and spotted  Carol at the bar with one of her girlfriends, a lady that Whit had gone out with a year or so before.  After Whit and she had dated, she had told Carol that she needed to meet him.  He had never been married, but apparently he was ready. 

She introduced Carol to Whit, and after 49 years of being single, he proposed.  They got married on November 11, 1978 at 11 AM.  As Whit tells it, it was on that day that his life began.  He got a beautiful wife, and inherited 3 wonderful stepsons. And a poodle.

Needing to stay busy, he worked for a company as a statewide rep importing china for about 3 years. He then went back to school, Troy University, earning a Master’s in counseling and human development in the area of Human Resources.  Eventually he got into Real Estate where he worked for BAARS for 20 years as a realtor, and then Top Gun Properties for another 3 years. 

He and Carol love traveling and he considers it his paramount pastime.  They’ve been back to Europe seven times.  He’s had several boats, starting when he was at the age of 10.   He was an avid sailor, with his favorite boat being a 31-foot offshore catch-rigged sailboat made by  Cheoy Lee.  Unfortunately, in 2004 it was destroyed when hurricane Ivan passed thru the area.  Whit is actively involved in the Navy Yacht Club, and enjoys meeting his aviator cronies at the Pensacola Navy Officers club where they tease him for never having flown a jet.  He rarely is seen without his baseball cap on that says RAFS…”Real Aviators Flew STOOFS (S2F PROP PLANES).”   He can both take a ribbing, and give it back.

He loves working in his yard, and Carol, who’s an artist, instructs in oil painting classes as well as enjoys working around the house.

Whit says ‘Life IS good” and he and Carol are living it to the fullest.  One of Whit’s favorite expressions is “It doesn’t get any better than this.”   We ON THE ISLAND are privileged to have you amongst us. 

Thank you Whit for what you have done for our nation, and what you contribute to us by choosing to be here.  It’s a privilege to call you a friend.