WESTMANLAND (AP) – Growing up on his family’s potato farm in Westmanland, population 60, Gregory Johnson had no inkling that he would pursue a military career that would culminate in the command of all U.S. Navy forces in Europe.

The four-star admiral flew fighter jets over the world’s oceans and stood shoulder to shoulder with paupers and presidents. He served in places he never imagined he would see.

“It was like living a dream,” Johnson, 58, said Sunday, the day after he was honored at a retirement banquet at the Brunswick Naval Air Station. The event followed an earlier ceremony in Naples, Italy, where he ended his 35-year career.

When he graduated from the University of Maine, Johnson knew he didn’t want to be a farmer and planned to go on to law school. But in 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, his draft number came up and his plans were shelved.

Johnson, who was selected for aviation-officer candidate school in 1968 and became a pilot, initially planned to stay in the service until he had fulfilled his minimum requirement.

But when the end of his commitment approached, he realized that he liked the challenges associated with military life.

Johnson quickly moved up the ladder, serving as executive assistant to Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Johnson later became senior military assistant to former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

“All the while, I kept going back out to sea,” he said. “I spent a long time out on aircraft carriers away from my family. I didn’t always have glamorous jobs … you pay your dues out at sea.”

Before his retirement, Johnson had met three presidents, helped calm rioters in Kosovo, and watched the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“It was like being a fly on the wall during some pretty fascinating things,” he recalled.

Johnson, who has a home in Harpswell, plans to take some time to relax before he decides on any future career moves.

“I certainly want to be involved in the state and give back to the people that helped me,” Johnson said. “So after the holidays, I’ll start getting focused on what I’ll do in my next life.”

AP-ES-11-01-04 0949EST



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