LABELLE — Veteran Elmira Leticia Johnson, better known to everyone in LaBelle as Myra Johnson, was born in Immokalee and raised in the LaBelle/Immokalee area. “To get away from small-town life and see the world,” Myra joined the Navy on July 22, 1991. She ended up in the Navy because they recruited her first.
She said it was overwhelming at first and that she wasn’t sure if she had made the right choice. “I was gonna have to grow up fast and I didn’t know anyone. I had definitely left the small town life.”
“I reminded myself that I was raised by a single mother and if she could deal with me, I could handle anything because she raised me,” Myra said.
Myra had one female instructor whose name she doesn’t remember, “but she was a good example of a leader and proved to me that you can be a strong woman and accomplish your goals with hard work and determination.”
Myra was stationed in Fort Belvoir, Va, where she attended lithographer school, then she was stationed in Norfolk on the USS Puget Sound (AD-38) and the USS Shenandoah (AD-44). She worked at as a lithographer aboard the ships. She was then stationed in Mayport aboard the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67); finally she was stationed at the Naval Air Station Pensacola where she worked in the print shop until her discharge.
“I would say my most memorable experience is when I was assigned to the John F. Kennedy. I arrived just shortly after they started allowing females on board aircraft carriers. It was a surprise for the entire print shop crew as I was the first female in their shop. We clashed a bit, but they learned rather quickly I could stand my own and was more stubborn than any of them,” Myra said with a smile.
She did two six-month Mediterranean cruises, touching base in Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Israel and Bahrain. She was also in New York during Fleet Week, the Virgin Islands and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It was while on those cruises that Myra felt the most stress, being away from her children for such a long time. She wasn’t sure if what they served on board the ships was food but she did enjoy the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
While on one of the cruises, Myra remembers “playing bingo while underway. I won the overall for $3,000 which was good because when I called home I was informed the car had caught fire, so I had money to pay for repairs.”
Myra was stationed in Pensacola and received a Humanitarian Discharge with Honorable Conditions due to her child’s medical condition in October 2000.
“I met two of the most amazing people that I still stay in touch with while in the Navy, my friend Lisa Bateman who lives in Rhode Island and was there for the birth of my son; my best friend and husband Richard Kohutek who supported me during the year I was in, after we met, supported me when I got out and has stood by my side through everything life has thrown at us,” Myra said.
Myra, her husband and children moved back to Naples in order to be closer to her family, eventually settling in LaBelle, where she was a full time domestic engineer (stay-at-home mom) and she learned to care for the couple’s youngest daughter and son, Novie and Corbyn. They have Epidermolysis bullosa, which is a group of rare diseases that cause fragile, blistering skin. The blisters may appear in response to minor injury, even from heat, rubbing, scratching or adhesive tape. In severe cases, the blisters may occur inside the body, such as the lining of the mouth or the stomach. Most types of epidermolysis bullosa are inherited. The condition usually shows up in infancy or early childhood. Some people don’t develop signs and symptoms until adolescence or early adulthood. Epidermolysis bullosa has no cure, though mild forms may improve with age. Treatment focuses on caring for blisters and preventing new ones.
“My service gave me a sense of purpose. I am very proud of my time in service. I learned to be responsible at a young age and to be held accountable for my actions,” she added when asked about how her time in the service affected her life. Anyone who knows this family knows that Myra shares her “sense of purpose” with her five children, and if you have seen Novie on the princess float in the Swamp Cabbage Parade, you know it to be true. Her oldest is Alyssa, 25, then Bryce, 24; Kaylah is Myra’s 21-year-old stepdaughter, Corbyn is 19 and Novie is 18.
“I am most proud of having amazing children. They are the legacy I will leave behind, and I hope that people look at them and say Myra’s kids are truly amazing and inspirational,” Myra added.
Myra has worked for Hendry County for the past 15 years. She started in the Code Enforcement Department and move to the Planning & Zoning Department in 2010. She is an active member of the American Legion Post 130, which has several programs that give back to the local youth. They participate in Boys State. They have a Flag Retirement Ceremony on Flag Day, June 14, are part of the Annual Fallen Heroes Event.
“I believe one of the biggest challenges is to be taken seriously by the older military generation not just because of my age but because I am a female. I think sometimes they forget that just because I am a woman doesn’t mean I didn’t serve my country and make the same sacrifice as they did. I also find it challenging to get our younger veterans involved in the veterans organizations. I feel as if maybe they don’t realize how much we need them to be involved.”
Myra wants all veterans to know that “you aren’t alone, we are family and here for you.”