Rufus Zenas Johnston was born on 7 June 1874 in Lincolnton, North Carolina. Appointed from that same state to the U.S. Naval Academy, he graduated in June 1895. For his two-year required Midshipman sea duty, he reported to USS Philadelphia. In June 1897, he was promoted to Ensign and served in succession on board USS Oregon, USS Solace, and USS Kearsarge, where he participated in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection, and the China Relief Expedition. After a promotion to Lieutenant Junior Grade in July 1900, he briefly served on board USS Indiana before reporting for duty to the Naval Academy. In May 1902, he assumed command of the torpedo boat Biddle. In January 1903, he was promoted to Lieutenant. Assigned to the Bureau of Navigation in June 1905, he served for two years before reporting to USS Dolphin. In July 1908, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander and reported six months later as the Executive Officer of USS Dobbin. In April 1910, he received orders to the Naval Training Station at Rhode Island while also serving as the Executive Officer of USS Constellation.
In November 1912, Johnston was assigned to USS New Hampshire and remained on board during the United States intervention at Vera Cruz, Mexico. On 22 April 1914, he led his men with skill and courage to ensure the occupation of the city. For his "distinguished conduct in battle," he was awarded the Medal of Honor. In July 1914, he was promoted to Commander. In October 1915, after briefly serving as Secretary of the General Board at the Navy Department in Washington D.C., he became the Commanding Officer at Naval Training Station, Newport, Rhode Island. During World War I, Johnston was promoted to Captain in October 1917 and reported in January 1918 to command USS Minneapolis. In September 1918, he assumed command of USS Frederick, but was injured and sent to the Naval Hospital at Newport, Rhode Island, later attending the Naval War College in May 1919.
In September 1920, Johnston briefly commanded USS Michigan then became the Commanding Officer of both the Naval Training Station and the Receiving Station at Hampton Roads, Virginia. In December 1922, he commanded USS Utah and later departed on a South American Good Will Tour with General John J. Pershing. Returning to the Bureau of Navigation in May 1925, he transferred later that year to serve as the Chief of Staff at the Naval War College. In July 1927, he became the Chief of Staff to Commander, Scouting Fleet, first on board USS Arkansas and remained as such when Commander, Scouting Fleet transferred to USS Wyoming. In August 1928, he became the Assistant Commandant at the First Naval District in Boston, Massachusetts. In June 1930, he retired and was promoted to Rear Admiral in August 1947 on the retired list. Rufus Z. Johnston died on 4 July 1959 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
Captain Rufus Zenas Johnston
USNA Grad: 1898
USS Utah Commanding Officer: December 22, 1922 - April 15, 1925
USS UTAH BB-31 / AG-16
The Forgotten Ship of Pearl Harbor
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