Patrick J. “P.J.” “Sawdust Man” Johnson
By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Patrick J. “P.J.” Johnson was the youngest of three children born on April 8, 1940 in Minot, ND. His mother, a housewife, barely made it to the hospital for his birth. His father was a bulk oil truck driver. When P.J. was two years old, his pinky finger got closed in the door of a Model A Ford. The tip of the finger had been cut off. The running joke with his family of how he lost his finger was that his mother said she did it to teach him his right hand from his left. Growing up, he attended the same parochial school for all twelve years of his education. He recalls being a member of the “Thirsty Five.” This was a group of boys who would break into the school safe to take mixers for booze. They eventually got caught and were suspended. Close to his graduation, P.J. had gotten sick and put in the hospital missing three to four weeks of school. He ended up graduating with two incompletes. According to him, they let him graduate because they did not want him returning to the following year to the new school that was built.
Right after his graduation, P.J. and a buddy decided to join the Navy. However, the Navy recruiter was out so they decided to join the Air Force. He was sent to Lackland AFB, TX and Keesler AFB, MS for boot camp and school. His aptitude test results placed him as a radio intercept operator. Unfortunately, he had to phase out due to a broken collar bone. He was sent to Ship Island for three weeks to await instructions. His orders were for NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) in Colorado Springs to become a teletype/crypto operator. This was before NORAD moved its operations inside Cheyenne Mountain. At the time, this base was the number one target for Russian missiles. His next few duty stations were located in the United States. Then he was sent to Baguio, Philippines for over three years. After his deployment in the Philippines, he went back to North Dakota and decided to get out of the Air Force.
It wasn’t long before he decided to re-join. Luckily he was able to get back his rank of E-5. He did some training in the States before being sent to Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. Upon leaving Vietnam, he became a member of 2 MOB (Mobile Communications Group) in Germany. While in Germany, he met an English woman and married her. He decided to put in to go back to North Dakota knowing that his request would be accepted since no one wanted to go there. Once he put his five years in, he retired as an E-6 Technical Sergeant and had received commendations for his service.
P.J. and his wife moved to New Hampshire with 30 sled dogs. He and his wife never had any children because, according to him, “You have to grow up to have children.” He lived on 112 acres of land without the comforts of electricity or water. Unfortunately, his marriage did not work out. He says he got divorced, sold his land, and got rid of his dogs all in the same week. This brought him back to North Dakota where he worked for the park district.
During his early retirement, P.J. would catch a bus to play cards at the casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. On his rides down, he would see the Naval Home. Once he got a letter stating that the home was open to all branches, he decided to move to AFRH-G. He began working in the wood shop, when he moved into the home because he knew he had to do something besides watch TV and go to the casinos. In the old home when the wood shop equipment was used, saw dust would get all over anyone who used it. Because he worked in there so much, he would leave covered in saw dust from head to toe. This is when he earned the nickname “Sawdust Man.”
Nowadays, you can still find him in the wood shop. His creations can be found scattered throughout the Home. He likes to give back to the community by creating toys to donate to Toys for Tots each Christmas. When asked why he enjoys living at AFRH-G, P.J. explained that “the Home is a paradise.” He also says he’s happy for what he’s got and not for what he wishes he could have. He’s definitely one of the liveliest and most creative Residents around the Home making him a great addition to AFRH-G!