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Passing of Rear Adm. Clarence A. E. Johnson, Jr., USNR (Ret.)

By: Samuel J. Cox Rear Adm., USN (retired) Director of Naval History, Curator for the Navy Director, Naval History and Heritage Command

It is with deep regret I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral Clarence Arthur Edward “Cricket” Johnson, Jr., USNR (Retired) on December 12, 2019 at age 89. Cricket graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1953 and served as an aviator on active duty and in the reserves until his retirement in 1983 as the Commander of Naval Bases Philadelphia, New York, and Boston.

Clarence Johnson joined the U.S. Naval Reserve in June 1948 as a Selected Reservist at NAS Minneapolis while he was studying at Macalester College.  He then received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. A cross-country runner at the Academy, he also participated in Glee Club and Marching Band and acquired the nickname “Cricket” before graduating with the class of 1953. After several months as an instructor in Marine Engineering, he reported to flight school at NAS Pensacola in September 1953 followed by additional training at NAS Kingsville. Designated a Naval Aviator and promoted to Lieutenant (junior grade) in January 1955 he reported to his first operational assignment with Anti-Submarine Squadron THIRTY at NAS Norfolk, as Assistant ASW Officer and Personnel Officer. Flying the new S2F-1 Tracker ASW aircraft, Lt. j.g. Johnson deployed aboard the anti-submarine warfare carriers Valley Forge (CVS 45), Antietam (CVS 36) and Tarawa (CVS 40).

In August 1957, Lieutenant Johnson reported to Fleet Airborne Electronics Training Unit, Atlantic (FAETULANT) as an instructor in the ASW department, training carrier ASW aircrew. In June 1959, he returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor in the Engineering Department. In September 1962 he entered the U.S. Naval Reserve, assigned to the U.S. Naval Reserve Center in Huntington, West Virginia and flying with VS-28A2 from NAF Washington, D.C. and eventually becoming executive officer of the unit. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in November 1962 and Commander in July 1967. His civilian job was Vice President of the Seven-Up Bottling Company in Huntington, W.Va.

Commander Johnson returned to active duty November 1968, serving as a special project (NC-4 50th Anniversary Commemoration) on the staff of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (OP-05R) followed by time as an ASW project manager at NAF Washington (Andrews Air Force Base). In 1972, he reported as the Executive Officer of Naval Air Station, Glenview, Ill. He then returned to Washington, D.C. as Director of Naval Air Reserves Plans, Programs and Policy Division, and then Assistant for Legislative Affairs and Special Projects for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

In 1977, Captain Johnson assumed command of Naval Air Station New Orleans, which included a visit by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (Queen Elizabeth II’s husband) on a refueling stop from the Falklands to England. In 1979, he served for a short period as the Deputy Chief of Staff for the Chief of Naval Reserve in New Orleans, before becoming the Deputy Director of Naval Reserves. In 1981, Rear Admiral Johnson assumed Command of Naval Bases Philadelphia, New York and Boston, during which he hosted many dignitaries, including the King of Norway, and executed navy participation in many events, including the Brooklyn Bridge 100th Anniversary, Tall Ships ’82, Philadelphia’s 300th anniversary, and Army-Navy football games. He retired in October 1983. 

Rear Admiral Johnson’s awards included the Legion of Merit (2), Navy Meritorious Service (3), and Navy Commendation Medal.

After retirement from the Navy, he and his wife bought 11 acres on the Rappahannock River, where they planted an orchard, grew vegetables, berries and holly which they sold at local farmers markets, raised bees and gathered oysters and crabs from their dock, and apparently enjoyed a very robust family life.

Cricket Johnson was the Minnesota High School State Champion cross-country runner, and he kept up his fast pace and long endurance for his entire career. His early years were spent in Airborne ASW during a particularly challenging time as the advent of nuclear powered submarines were revolutionizing submarine and anti-submarine warfare. Much of his career was spent educating midshipmen and training aircrews, and ensuring that Naval Air Reserves were ready in case the balloon ever went up with the Soviet Union. Unable to stay away from active duty for more than a few years, he returned and excelled at critical assignments leading the Naval Reserves during the particularly challenging post-Vietnam doldrums and the late 1970’s/80’s resurgence. Although his last assignment sounds like a whale of a good time, it should be noted that there are a myriad of ways to embarrass the United States Navy in events like that, which by his astute leadership didn’t happen. Cricket set the example for reserve and active duty officers alike, and the Navy and Nation are much better for his service. 

Rest in Peace Admiral Johnson.