One of Danny Walsh’s finest memories was getting a sharp Marine Corps salute from Santa Claus.
That salute came from Al Johnson, who has played the role of the jolly old elf for the last 16 years in the Havelock Christmas Parade.
Johnson, a member of the Marine Corps for 20 years, died June 6 on the 70th anniversary of D-Day. Johnson, of Carolina Pines, was 67.
“One of the great days of my life is when I was the grand marshal of the parade and when Santa Claus pulled up,” said Walsh, a Havelock commissioner. “He stood up and saluted me. It brought tears to my eyes.
“He’s just a great man and I’m sorry that we lost him. He was a fine, fine gentleman. He’s worked all of his life for the Shriners, for the city of Havelock, for the Marine Corps. He’s just a great dear friend.”
A native of Jacksonville, Fla., Johnson was in the Marine Corps from 1965 to 1985. After his retirement from the service, he worked at Rose Brothers Furniture in Havelock.
Johnson was the face of Santa Claus, either by riding a motorcycle during a Harley toy run or by waving from a sleigh in the city’s Christmas Parade.
“I’m sad. He was our Santa Claus forever,” said Havelock Mayor Will Lewis. “He will be missed this year. He was just a good guy, a veteran. I spent a lot of time working with him on the parade committee. He was a good guy and he really loved Havelock, so it’s a shame.”
Charles Justice was a friend of Johnson’s and a fellow Shriner.
“Al Johnson was one of the nicest, friendliest guys you ever want to meet,” Justice said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do and he let it be known. Al was a lifelong Mason and Shriner in the Order and supported the children’s hospitals and anybody else he could.
Johnson was a member of the Down East Coalition for American Veterans, a member of the Marine Corps League, and the Fleet Reserve Association.
“The city of Havelock has lost a good man,” Justice said. “They will be hard pressed to replace him.”
Johnson is survived by his wife of 34 years, Marsha Henry Johnson, three sons and four grandchildren.
“He was a sweetheart,” Commissioner Brenda Wilson said. “He brought joy to our whole town being Santa Claus. I loved seeing him riding his motorcycle up and down waving to the kids. He’s just a special guy and our parade will miss him.”