By Den Hill
Special to The Lakeland Times
A lesson in history was recently energetically received by the Manitowish Waters Lions Club when club member Forrest (Forrie) Johnson described his career in the United States Navy at a recent Lions club dinner meeting.
Forrest (Forrie) Johnson joined the Navy after graduating in 1943 from Kingsford High School, located in Michigan. After completing his basic training, Forrie spent his navy career in the South Pacific performing fire and torpedo support as a gunner’s mate Petty Officer on the USS Rooks DD-804, which was a Fletcher Class Destroyer.
His Navy career ended shortly after the Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945. During his time on the USS Rooks, Forrie saw intense action in these major conflicts: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Leyte Gulf.
After these battles the USS Rooks was en route to Japan to perform its part of what was to be the last assault, an assault which would occur on the Japan mainland. This mission was called off while en route. The United States had called on Japan to surrender in the Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, threatening “prompt and utter destruction.”
The Japanese government had ignored this ultimatum and with no response from the Japanese, the atomic bombing at Hiroshima and Nagasaki occurred on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945.
During his presentation to the Manitowish Lions Club, of which Forrie has been a proud member for more than 25 years, he informed our Lions Club that the combat he endured had changed his life forever.
He experienced sobering experiences such as shooting at Japanese kamikaze pilots, burial of shipmates at sea, and continuous fighting for months at a time.
He stated that in some of the battles, their five-inch gun barrels had to be replaced due to firing them around the clock and they had no choice but to change them out. The raw emotions of being in these battles 70 years ago are still present within Forrie today, as evidenced by his pauses from time to time during his presentation to gather his composure.
Forrie taught English for 40 years at what is now Lakeland Union High School.
He and his wife, Ollie, have been married more than 65 years and still reside in Manitowish Waters where they raised their five children.