Leon Johnson was born September 13, 1904 at Columbia, MO. He landed once at Tucson flying an unidentified Boeing P-12-D. Based at Riverside, CA March Field, he arrived solo from Riverside at 11:25AM on Saturday, September 14, 1935. He remained on the ground for an hour then departed eastward for El Paso, TX.
Although a lieutenant when he visited Tucson, according to his NASM biographical file (cited, left sidebar) he was soon (1936) promoted to captain. He went on to rise in the ranks to 4-star general, serving in WWII and beyond. Earlier, he had attended the U.S. Military Academy from 1922-1926. In 1936 he earned a master's degree in meteorology at the California Institute of Technology. His master's thesis was on the subject of ice formation on aircraft.
Johnson was involved in the famous low-altitude (fifty feet or lower to avoid radar detection and confound German antiaircraft fire) bombing of the German-controlled Ploesti oil refineries in Romania in August, 1943. At the date of upload of this page, there are about 70,000 Google hits for "Ploesti Raid," also known as "Operation Tidal Wave." Armchair historians have discussed the pros and cons of this raid. The concensus is that it was a very costly raid in terms of aircraft and personnel for a few weeks' delay in German oil output.
Johnson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH) for his leadership during "Operation Tidal Wave." Johnson is not alone among Register signers to receive the MOH. The Army's James Doolittle and the Marine Corps' Christian Schilt are two others. Below, from the Air Force Times of September, 1983, Johnson, at left, donates his uniform.
Air Force Times, September 5, 1983 (Source: NASM)
After the war, his various tours of duty were in the capacity of Chief of Personnel Services, Headquarters USAF, Deputy to the Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Personnel and Commander of the Strategic Air Command's Fifteenth Air Force at Colorado Springs, CO. He returned to England in August, 1948 where he organized the Third Air Division, which later was elevated to Air Force status, becoming the Third Air Force in Europe. As such he provided facilities for the maintenance and support of SAC aircraft on rotational training missions and aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift.
He and his wife had to daughters, one of whom married Hoyt S. Vanderberg, Jr., son of Register pilot Hoyt Vandenberg. General Johnson retired July 31, 1961 with about 35 years of military service. His hobbies included repairing and refinishing furniture, woodworking in general, and collecting function and decorative copper originals.
Johnson died on November 10, 1997 in Fairfax, VA. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. As might be expected for a MOH recipient, and for a participant in one of the most famous/infamous missions of WWII, Johnson has a good Web presence. His official U.S. Air Force biography is at the link. A video (YouTube) of Johnson receiving his Medal of Honor is at the link. Numerous photographs and other biographical information about Johnson are at the links.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 01/24/12 REVISED: