Tossed together in the dorms, their friendship has known no bounds
Dick Johnson and Ken Sasine met as BYU freshmen 62 years ago; the friendship they formed extended through their service in Vietnam and all the years beyond
When they were thrown together, quite literally, in John Hall, a dorm on the lower campus of Brigham Young University, there was no rhyme or reason to it. Certainly no great expectations.
Dick Johnson was from Idaho, glad to be starting college because it got him out of doing chores at the family farm in Pocatello. Ken Sasine was from south central Los Angeles, just north of Compton, happy to be breathing clean mountain air in Provo.
The Y. had randomly paired the 17-year-old freshmen as roommates. The rules were the basics: don’t use the other guy’s toothbrush and try not to kill each other.
That was 62 years ago.
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A couple of Saturdays ago, Dick Johnson, who lives in Daybreak, celebrated his 80th birthday. His family reserved the cultural hall at the Latter-day Saint ward next door to their house so they could throw a party. A large crowd showed up — Dick’s wife, of course, his kids, his grandkids, his extended family, his neighbors, work colleagues from back in the day, all there to wish him many happy returns.
And right there in the middle of them all, wishing the loudest, was Ken Sasine.
He’d driven from Colorado for the party, and it wasn’t just so he could rub it in to his onetime roommate that he was still just 79; wouldn’t turn 80 until January.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” he said.
There’s a word for what Ken and Dick have going.
In the vernacular of the ’60s, they hit it off from the start. They weren’t clones. They came from different backgrounds, didn’t look alike, studied different subjects — Ken majored in engineering, Dick in finance. Still, they found they were simpatico in just about everything under the sun.
After two years living in the dorms, one of them, they can’t remember who, came up with the bright idea that they should spend a semester at the church college in Hawaii. BYU-Hawaii was the same tuition as BYU-Provo. Why wouldn’t they go? That summer Dick made enough working at the farm and Ken enough working at a drugstore in South Central to be able to pay for airfare and purchase a motorcycle they shipped to Honolulu so they could get around the island.
They spent fall semester of their junior year in Laie, living with four Polynesians in a six-man dorm room. After classes they’d body surf on the North Shore or watch the locals surf the big waves.
When they ran out of money they sold the motorcycle and made their way back to Provo.
Life, as it will, turned more complicated after that. Ken went to England on a Latter-day Saint mission. Dick finished his degree and graduated in four years. They were roommates no longer.
That could’ve been, should’ve been — usually is — it. But it wasn’t. Not for Ken and Dick. They’d bonded for life. Since BYU, they’ve never lived in the same town as each other, but they’ve never lost track of each other either.
Both went in the Air Force and served in Vietnam, Ken as a cargo plane pilot, Dick as a navigator in a B-52. They’re proud of their service, but it’s a reflection of their compatibility to hear their similar views on the state of today’s military. Dick: “It pains me to see our military becoming woke, worried more about pronouns and political correctness than protecting the country.” Ken: “For the current leadership of the military to allow it to turn into a social organization instead of an entity that is there to protect us can’t be allowed to continue without having horrible effects.”
Sixty-two years later, they’re as in sync as ever.
“We recognize this is rather unique, a friendship like this,” says Dick. “It’s just been magical really. I don’t know anybody that’s had a friend as fine as mine.”
“I can still remember when we were young guys, and that means a lot,” says Ken.
Is there a formula to a friendship such as theirs?
The question momentarily stumps them both. A grand friendship, it appears, is easier done than defined.
Finally, Ken says, “It’s something that doesn’t require a lot of conscious thought. It just exists as a thing you rely on in your life and value tremendously.”
Adds Dick, “There are no absolutes, no obligations. When we have a chance to get together we try to take it, but we don’t structure anything. There are no strings attached.”
That brings up the subject of Ken’s 80th birthday coming up in January. Any plans for that occasion?
“Still figuring that one out,” says Ken.
“Whatever’s planned,” says Dick. “I’ll be there.”