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VETERAN SPOTLIGHT: Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson, 53, grew up in Bovey, Minn., and graduated from high school in 1981.

“Back in the ’80s the mines were closing down and there weren't any jobs,” Johnson said.

He joined the Navy and served from 1981-2001 as a gunner's mate first class petty officer. He is proud of the fact he has been around the world four and a half times. He retired at age 38.

“I was in charge of all of the weapons on the ship, including guns,” Johnson said.

His adventure began on the USS La Salle, which was one of the few ships painted white besides the medical ships in the Persian Gulf.

The second ship was the USS Edison, on which he sailed from Newport, Rhode Island, through the Great Lakes.

Military personnel went about their business unnoticed by the locals in Rhode Island, due to the amount of personnel on the nearby base, according to Johnson.

It was a different story in the Great Lakes area.

“People respect the uniform in the Great Lakes area,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s third ship, the USS Missouri, was his favorite and the largest ship he was on.

The ship weighs 45,000 tons, was 887 feet long and held 2,700 sailors and Marines. The Marines were on board for security purposes only. The ship was recommissioned May 10, 1986.

“The USS Missouri was the best ship I was on because it had the biggest guns,” Johnson said with a laugh. “Once you’ve shot one of those guns, any other gun is like, eh, big deal! The pride of the battleship is … I don't know. When you walk on a battleship, it's different. Nothing is going to hurt you, or at least that's what you feel like.”

The USS Missouri was decommissioned March 31,1992 and now rests in Hawaii where it is open for tours.

The week after Johnson left the Missouri, singer Cher filmed her music video “If I Could Turn Back Time” on the ship.

By the time Desert Storm began, Johnson had already served the maximum allowed eight consecutive years aboard a ship and needed to switch to shore duty. He chose Hawaii.

“During Desert Storm they made me go to shore duty,” Johnson said. “I got to fight that war from the shores of Waikiki. Oh, that was fun,” he added a bit sarcastically.

Johnson volunteered to serve on a ship again and was assigned to the USS Reclaimer, then the USS Willamette before returning to shore duty, this time in Duluth. The Willamette was decommissioned in 1999.

After living in Duluth 1996-2000, Johnson was assigned to one last ship, the USS Wasp out of Norfolk, Va., before coming back to Cloquet to join his wife and six children for good.

The family recently moved from Cloquet to Mahtowa and Johnson and his wife, whom he met while on shore duty in Hawaii, will celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary in November.

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