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News createt: 11-11-2010

Aboard The USS Randell With Elvis


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OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1956. He was a boilerman and spent four years stationed on four different ships – two troop ships, an ammunition ship and a survey ship. One of those troop ships was the USS Randall. Aboard the Randall, Jim went from Brooklyn to Germany and back, moving GIs. One of those GIs on the Randall at the same time as Jim was U.S. Army Private Elvis Presley, who sailed for Germany in September 1958. Elvis was serving as part of the 3rd Armored Division.

Jim says the trans-Atlantic trip took about 10 days. During that time, Elvis might have tried to be regular soldier, but it wasn’t easy. At 23, Pvt. Presley was probably the most famous man alive.

“Everybody was getting their pictures taken with him, getting autographs, but I thought I was too cool for that,” Jim recalls. “But I passed him on the stairs one day and he said ‘good morning.’ And the best I could do was kinda stammer.”

“Actually I was impressed with Elvis,” says Jim. “On the ship there were dependent cabins for the officers’ wives and other passengers who were going to Germany. Elvis was supposed to work cleaning out the dependent cabins, but they had to transfer him out of there because of all the attention he was getting from female passengers.

“During breaks or off-duty times, he would always have crowds of troops around getting pictures taken with him and asking dumb questions. He never ever got impatient. He would just try to answer, be one of the guys. Not at all arrogant.”

Another one of Jim’s most vivid memories of his years in the Navy happened his first day aboard ship after getting out of boot camp.

“It was the very first day I was on the ship; the alarm went off – bong! bong! bong! Then ‘collision, collision, all hands man your collision station.’ I could see a ship coming out of the fog at us. It hit us right in the bow, put a 20-foot gash in the ship and put us in dry dock for three or four months.”

Another interesting experience was the trip to Guantanamo Bay, shortly after the Castro takeover of Cuba.

“The sailors and Marines stationed there could not leave the base,” Jim says. “Our job was to transport them to nearby islands for their liberty breaks.”

Along with his duty aboard the Randall, Jim also spent time stationed on the USS Buckner, the USS Lowry and the USS Great Sitkin.

Jim Johnston served in the U.S. Navy 1956-1960

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