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Johnson recognized for work on USS Arizona

Donald Johnson

Photo courtesy of Donald L. Johnson

The National Park Service recently awarded retired Mechanical Engineering Professor Donald L. Johnson the George B. Hartzog Jr. Award for Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.

Johnson began volunteering for the National Park Service on a series of projects that have provided the agency with scientific information about the condition and continued possible deterioration of such historic resources as the USS Arizona and a B-29 aircraft submerged in Lake Mead.

“It has been a privilege and an honor for me to be a part of the USS Arizona preservation project,” Johnson said. “It has been special for me to use my background in such a way that I could combine science and engineering with history.”

His work with the Park Service began as a tourist with a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial in 1998. That and an article in his hometown newspaper led to a conversation with park staff and ultimately offering his services to conduct metallurgical and corrosion analysis on the hull. Working with Park Service staff and colleagues from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, Johnson helped design and implement a corrosion monitoring program to determine corrosion rates on the hull of the Arizona.

“Don’s research is wholly innovative and provides a minimum-impact, cost-effective methodology that will have applications throughout the National Park System and to historic iron and steel shipwrecks worldwide,” said Larry Murphy, chief of the Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center and Johnson’s volunteer supervisor and coworker.

Johnson’s work on the Arizona project continues as funding becomes available. UNL faculty and students have assisted with Johnson’s project, and the University of Nebraska Foundation has provided funding for laboratory and student expenses.

His research has been applied to a Japanese midget submarine submerged off the coast of Pearl Harbor and the Civil War submarine Explorer located in the Bay of Panama. Johnson’s work has been a vital step in preserving national park resources, leaving them and other sites unimpaired for future generations.

The George Hartzog awards were established in 2002 to recognize the commitment of the Park Service’s most outstanding volunteers. Hartzog was the agency’s director from 1963 to 1972.

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