SAVOY — During his nine years in the service, Marine Sgt. Daniel Johnson says, he saw a lot of the world and — a fact of which he is proud — got to participate in a humanitarian mission.
He’s 29 now. But back when the man who grew up near Springfield was 20, he says he was unsure what to do with his life.
He took some classes and did a few jobs, but nothing stuck, he says.
One of his friends enlisted, which inspired Johnson to visit the recruiting offices to see what was suitable for him.
It turns out the Marines were the one for him, he says.
Because it was the only recruiting station open at the time.
In January 2010, he was off to San Diego for 13 weeks of boot camp, where he says his athletic skills helped him out.
Next it was off to Marine Combat Training at Camp Pendleton in California.
Ultimately, he would never see combat during his time in; instead Johnson was sent off to Pensacola, Fla., to study aircraft mechanics.
He learned about airframes, hydraulics, carbon fiber — to repair Hueys as well as Cobra helicopters, a close relative of the Huey.
After a stop in North Carolina (where he would meet an old friend from Springfield), he was deployed with the Navy for six months at sea, which allowed him to see much of the Mediterranean.
There were only 10 men in his shop on the USS New York, with its keel made from steel from the World Trade Center. Later, he would serve on the USS Iwo Jima.
“I like small groups, you all know what your job is,” Johnson says. “Nobody gets complacent.”
The ship’s path allowed him to see Spain, Italy, Bahrain, Kuwait and, the site that impressed him most, Petra in Jordan.
Johnson says he fell in love with working on helicopters, so he decided to re-enlist.
He became an inspector, which opened doors for him, he says.
About that time, he was in New York for Fleet Week, proudly wearing his uniform. He visited the 9/11 Memorial, creating a circle, he says, with the time on the USS New York.
He also came full circle with his USS Iwo Jima experience, visiting the island where brutal weeks of World War II took place.
Meanwhile, he had reconnected with that friend from Springfield, Jenny Morris, and the relationship became romantic. They married, and she moved to Savoy to work on a Ph.D. in animal science.
Toward the end of his service, Johnson took part in the Asia-Pacific military exercise Cobra Gold — in Japan, Thailand (the center of the exercise), South Korea and the Philippines.
He says he loved the culture of Japan, not least the food, which was all new to him when he was stationed in Okinawa.
One role he is most proud of is the humanitarian Nepal mission of 2015, after a major earthquake struck near Kathmandu on April 25, 2015.
“We delivered food; we were flying people around to inspect the most-damaged areas. We saw what the Third World was like, and how much help was needed,” he says.
“It put a whole new perspective on life, how lucky we are to live in the U.S. I have so much to appreciate.”
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.