Kenneth Johnston (on the guitar, above) arrived in Vietnam with a bang and ended his tour with a band. First, the bang:
“I was 11-Bravo (light weapons, infantry) and on the first day I was assigned a squad, issued my equipment and sent out to a rifle range to zero in my weapon. That evening I returned to the base camp awaiting my orders to move out. I went to a makeshift bar housed in a Quonset hut for a beer that will probably elude me during the next few months. I had only been in-country for a matter of hours when, during a heavy monsoon rain, a lightning bolt hit the curved metal roof with a blast that sounded like we had been struck by a mortar round. The spot at the bar where I was sitting had a brass railing all around the countertop so when the lightning hit, the zig-zagging light traveled from the roof to the railing and then shot around the counter. It was pure luck that no one was holding on to that rail so no one was electrocuted. Welcome to Vietnam.”
In less than 15 months of service, Kenneth was awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and obtained the rank of E-5 (equal to Sergeant). “During my tour of duty, I experienced bullet rounds so close to my head that I could hear the rounds spinning and buzzing past my ear,” he recalls.
While Kenneth saw plenty of action during his service, he was also afforded the opportunity to spread a bit of joy and fun to his fellow soldiers. “Toward the end of my tour, I convinced my superiors to allow me to enter a different battle – a Battle of the Bands contest where the top two winners would tour all of Vietnam – even where shows were not allowed to go due to the inherent danger. We won the local Battle and were sent to Red Beach for the finals which included all the winners of local battles and we were one of the top two bands. I had to extend my tour of duty in Vietnam for two months so I could tour with the band.” Finally, in December 1968 he returned home to the United States, just in time to surprise his family for Christmas.
In 1970, Kenneth married and put a band together that included his wife and her sister. They returned to Vietnam with a show band called “Doomsday Refreshment Committee” and Kenneth says they “went everywhere from Ca Mau in the south Delta to Quang Tri in the north near the DMZ.”
After Vietnam, the band toured the military base camps in Thailand. When that tour finished, their agents had a hotel build a club for the band. It was to be an after-hours club called “The Tug,” named after a famous gambling boat three miles off the coast of Thailand. “The stage looked like the bow of a ship with dark blue lights in the background,” Kenneth reminisces. His band performed there for close to eight months before returning home.
Stateside, Kenneth earned a degree in data processing and worked as a computer programmer for ADP. As the personal computer became popular, Ken consistently taught himself new software. After 9/11, he found himself unemployed and began working through temporary agencies. One of the positions was at USC, where Kenneth heard that a business manager was looking for an admin who could program in Microsoft Access, as the department was switching to an Access database. After his interview, he was hired.
“I have been here since 2004 and the benefits provided by the university have literally saved my retirement. In the few years I have been at USC I’ve managed to purchase a house and build up retirement savings enough to survive and enjoy old age. The people I work with are so nice and professional it is a joy to see them every day. They are my friends and we help each other unconditionally.”
Kenneth is proud to work for USC, and USC is proud Kenneth is a part of the Trojan family!
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