The Life of Clayton J. Johnsen
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On June 8, 2020, Master Sergeant Clayton J. Johnsen, USAF, Retired, passed away peacefully at his Windermere, Florida home with Maxine, his loving wife of 67 years, at his side.
Clayton, known as Clay, was born in 1930, in Redfield, South Dakota, the son of Niels Johnsen and Gertrude (Christoffel) Johnsen. Niels was a farmer so Clay grew up with hard work in an environment where he learned about animals, crops and machinery.
Clay graduated from Frankfort High School in 1948 and immediately joined the Air Force to begin a distinguished 22-year Air Force career. During that time he logged over 10,000 hours (over a year) of flight time supporting our nation as an aircraft mechanic and Flight Engineer on flight crews for the Douglas C-47 Skytrain, Douglas C-54 Skymaster, Boeing KC-97 Stratotanker, Douglas C-124 Globemaster and the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star Super Constellation (Connie) aircraft.
Clay ‘s Air Force career began at Aircraft Mechanics School and a C-54 Specialist Course followed by his first assignment at Erding Air Depot, Germany. For three years he performed as an aircraft mechanic rebuilding aircraft supporting the Berlin Airlift. He then returned to Redfield, South Dakota in 1952 to propose to, and marry his high school sweetheart, Maxine Phillips. They traveled together to Clay’s next assignment in Tacoma, Washington at McChord AFB where he flew on a C-54 crew with missions primarily on the west coast and Alaska. The C-54 was a four-engine propeller airplane that carried cargo and personnel.
Next Clay spent 18 months at Scott Field, IL as a Crew Chief and Flight Mechanic in the Military Air Evacuation Squadron flying on the C-47. His son Leslie was born during this time.
Clay was then stationed at Albrook Air Force Station, Panama, supporting the Caribbean Air Command (CAC) for three years as a Crew Chief/Flight Mechanic. He flew with a C-54 crew on VIP flights transporting passengers, including Generals and country Presidents, throughout Central and South America. His son Robert (Bob) was born during this time.
Next was one of his longest assignments, at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana, supporting the Strategic Air Command. During the five years in Montana Clay was the NCO of the Repair Squadron as a Staff SSgt and later a Technical Sgt. Clay attended Engineer Panel School at Chanute Field, IL and then Randolph AFB, San Antonio, TX to train as a Flight Engineer. Then he flew with a KC-97 crew supporting the Air Refueling Squadron including a 90-day tour in Japan plus three 30-day tours.
During Clay’s last three assignments he enjoyed the warm weather at California, Hawaii and Florida! For 2 years at Vandenberg AFB, California, Clay flew on KC-97 missions supporting Missile Inspector General (IG) teams. While stationed at Hickam AFB, Hawaii for four years, he was a Flight Engineer on his favorite plane, the C-124. His missions included flights to Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand and 50 flights to Vietnam, including 36 combat missions.
Clay’s last Air Force assignment was McCoy AFB, Florida as a Flight Engineer on an air crew flying on EC-121 missions over Honduras, Cuba and Key West. His work included tracking missiles to determine where they fell back to earth or performing surveillance missions for the Lockheed U-2 Spy Plane.
On July 31, 1970, Clay retired from the Air Force in after 22 years of service where he received recognition for distinguished service.
After he retired from the Air Force, Clay and Maxine remained in Orlando, Florida. Clay worked as a mechanic on machinery that built paper cans at Boise Cascade and then worked as a mechanic at Southern Fruit supporting the production of orange juice concentrate. Lastly, Clay worked at Disney World for 10 years where he began as a mechanic for a Disney resort, then helped build Epcot and worked in the Monorail shop where he retired from Disney.
Upon retirement, Clay joined The American Legion and served on Post 286 Honor Guard teams performing military honors with flag folding and 21-gun salutes for over 1,000 funerals. For his many years of distinguished service to the Legion, Clay was honored with a Lifetime Membership to The American Legion.
Clay always said he was a “Jack of all trades, but master of none”. In truth, Clay was a master of many trades who could build and/or fix almost anything. Everywhere he lived or worked, he improved things and blessed people with his service.
Clay is survived by his wife Maxine (Phillips) Johnsen, son Leslie (and wife Gail) and Grandsons Michael, Daniel, Robby, Jeremy and Jared and Granddaughter Emilie, his brother Ralph and sister Lavonne Thurmer. Clay is pre-deceased by his son Robert, his parents and his brother Lynn.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The American Legion Post 286 with a note saying “In Memory of Clayton Johnsen”. Please address the check to “Post 286” and mail it to:
The American Legion Post 286, 529 Fairlane Avenue, Pine Castle, Florida 32809
A memorial service will be scheduled after the current COVID restrictions have been lifted.