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Marine receives Honor Man recognition 40 years later

Ken Johnson in 1977. Submitted photo 1 / 3
Retired U.S. Marine Ken Johnson is surprised with a birthday celebration and presentation of his Marine Service Honor Man certificate on Saturday, Oct. 27 at the Hudson YMCA. Johnson earned the title of Honorman in 1977, but never officially received the recognition until now. Submitted photo2 / 3
Ken Johnson receives his certificate of commendation for Honor Man from U.S. Marine Captain Brandon Reese at the Hudson YMCA on Saturday, Oct. 27. Johnson earned the commendation 40 years ago as a young Marine. Submitted photo 3 / 3

As he finished leading his R.I.P.P.E.D exercise class at the Hudson YMCA, Ken Johnson made his way with classmates and friends to a nearby room for a surprise celebration of his 60th birthday.

Waiting for him there was a gift 40 years in the making.

"It was an absolute surprise," Johnson said. "It was just, speechless is a good word."

As a young U.S. Marine in 1977, Johnson earned the title of Series Honor Man as the highest performing recruit in bootcamp at the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot at that time, finishing at the top of a group of about 3,000 Marines total.

"Back then, honestly, it was one of the highlights of my life," Johnson said.

Boot camp alone was no easy task, and coming out with top scores is quite the feat.

Johnson's boot camp days consisted of more than 13 weeks of intense training. He learned how to be a Marine, undergoing physical training and mental stress and developing leadership abilities.

The son of a retired U.S. Air Force major, Johnson said his upbringing gave him an advantage.

"I grew up in that environment," Johnson said. "From the standpoint of having to deal with authority, that stuff came really easy for me."

His drive to be at the top came from a lot of different things, Johnson said, led by his enjoyment of helping people and taking the lead.

"Being in more of a leadership role is a little bit more natural," Johnson said.

Johnson was never officially recognized for the accomplishment. At that time, in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and with different technology, Johnson said he's probably not the only one.

"Some things just get lost in the shuffle," he said.

Johnson was finally presented with the certificate on Saturday, Oct. 27, thanks in part to fellow retired Marine Joe Schmitt, who heard Johnson's story and decided to act.

Johnson said he's grateful for all the work behind this effort.

"It's not something you ever expect that will come back to you like that," Johnson said.

Johnson served for more than three years as an infantryman. He became interested in joining when he heard about a company that would be all from North Dakota, where he lived at the time. He went down to check it out, scored well and was in.

"It kind of happened relatively quick," he said.

Since he's left the service he moved back to the Midwest, settling in the Twin Cities area and finding a job in the printing business.

Now the Honor Man certificate hangs up on his wall, recognition of what he accomplished and a reminder of his days in the Marines.

"What it really does from one standpoint is it just brings back a lot of memories," Johnson said.

The certificate is another way he stays connected to that time, and the people he met there. Johnson said he's been able to keep in touch with many through social media.

"You don't have to spend a long time in the service with somebody to create a pretty good bond," he said.

Johnson said it was an honor to receive the recognition, and have so many there with him.

"I feel blessed that it happened," he said.

Rebecca Mariscal

Rebecca Mariscal joined the Hudson Star Observer as a reporter in 2016. She graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in communication and journalism. 

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