October 23, 1925 – January 23, 2005
Johnny Carson enlisted in the U.S. Navy on June 8, 1943 as an apprentice seaman and was enrolled in the V-5 program, which trained Navy and Marine pilots.
He hoped to train as a pilot, but Carson was sent instead to Columbia University for midshipman training. While attending Columbia he was known to perform magic tricks for classmates.
Commissioned an ensign late in the war, Carson was assigned to the USS Pennsylvania (BB 38), a battleship on station in the Pacific. He was en route to the combat zone aboard a troopship when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki brought the war to a close.
The Pennsylvania was torpedoed on August 12, 1945 and Carson reported for duty on the 14th — the last day of the war. Although he arrived too late for combat, he got a firsthand education in the consequences of war. The damaged warship sailed to Guam for repairs, and as the newest and most junior officer, Carson was assigned to supervise the removal of 20 dead sailors.
He later served as a communications officer in charge of decoding encrypted messages. He recalls that the high point of his military career was performing a magic trick for Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal.