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Wes Johnston ~ “Gave ‘em 20 years to kill me, now they gotta pay me”

Wes Johnston Wes Johnston Photos courtesy Wes Johnston

Wes Johnston retired from 20 years in the U.S. Navy in 2003, having tours of duty all over the world, from ship to ship, and port to port.  About his retirement, the very jovial Johnston says, “I told them I gave ‘em 20 years to kill me, and they didn’t, so now they gotta pay me.”  

Johnston joined the Navy in 1960, stating “It was the draft or coal mining and I wasn’t a fan of either.”  He was stationed initially in Jacksonville.  From there, Johnston was stationed out of San Diego on the USS Ticonderoga from 1965-1967 where he saw cruises off the coast of South China and two cruises off the coast of Vietnam.  

In 1971-1974, he was on the USS Tattnall DDG-19 off the coast of Mayport, Florida.  Johnston recalls crossing the equator, the Artic Circle and the Mediterranean Sea.   In 1974, he was a Chief Electrical Warfare Technician stationed in Pascagoula, Mississippi, moving to the Naval Air Station in Pensacola from 1975-1977.  

In 1977, he was aboard the USS Forrestal CVA-59, where he remained until 1980.  

One of the incidents that stood out with Johnston involved Chilean Navy in 1973.  They were on an exercise at the Panama Canal.  After the exercise was complete, Johnston said, “They went back and attacked their leader, President (Salvador) Allende.”  

Johnston comes from a military family with 130 total years among he and his four brothers.  Three of the brothers were radio techs, one an electrical tech, and the aviator tech got out after four years.  All brothers were in the communications field in the Navy.  Johnston laughs when telling of his brother who served 11 years in the Navy before opting out and joining the Army.  Johnston said he asked him what in the world and his brother replied, “Well I know what goes up must come down, but what goes down doesn’t have to come up.”  

Johnston says of how he ended up in the Panhandle, “I met a red head in Jacksonville, and married her, and she happened to be from up Blountstown way, and so here I am in Altha.”   He and his wife have two sons.  Johnston is the Mayor of Altha, a position he’s held for more years than he says he ever thought he would.  

He hasn’t let any grass grow under his feet since his retirement from the Navy.  Aside from being the Mayor of Altha, Johnston is involved with many organizations including the Apalachicola Regional Planning Council for eight counties, the Children’s Coalition for Calhoun County, the Tobacco Free Partnership Board, the Pioneer Settlement Tour Guide, the American Legion District 2 Post 272, and the VFW Post 1210.  He is an active participant in all activities in Calhoun County including the Walk to Liberty.

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