Lt. Col. John Henry Johnson died on July 10, 2019 due to complications of heart and lung disease. Named after his paternal grandfather, John was born to Bernard and Alice McCarthy Johnson in Tropic, Utah on July 12, 1931. The oldest of eight children, John grew up on the family sheep ranch at the edge of Bryce Canyon National Park. John was active in Scouting as a boy and achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in 1946, later earning both bronze and gold palms. He graduated from Tropic High School and attended Branch Agricultural College, followed by Utah State University, where he participated in R.O.T.C., spent summers working as a forester and smoke jumper, and graduated with a B.S. in Forrest Management in 1954.
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John was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1954, and pursued Radar Observer training in Texas. It was in Houston, on the second floor landing of his apartment that John met Patricia Jane Wright. She and her friends were just returning from an evening out dancing, while John was getting an early start to go fishing. Cupid intervened and John and Patricia married December 3, 1955 at James Connally A.F.B., Waco, Texas. After advanced training at Moody A.F.B., Valdosta, Georgia, John and Patricia were stationed at Presque Isle, A.F.B, Maine, with the 76th “Flying Tigers” Figher/Intercepter Squadron who were charged with protecting U.S. airspace. John was a recipient of the National Defense Service Medal for his active service during this time.
In 1957, with their first child on the way, John was honorably discharged from active military service, he and Patricia moved back to Texas, where their daughter Cynthia was born. Initially, John worked as a forester with Kirby Lumber Co. in East Texas. Three years later, the family moved to Houston where John began a new career as an insurance adjuster with Continental Casualty Co., maintaining his military reserve status and navigating C-119 and C-130 aircraft out of Ellington A.F.B, Houston, and Kelly A.F.B., San Antonio, Texas.
John and Patricia’s second child, Edward, was born in 1965. On January 26, 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, John’s unit at Kelly A.F.B. was recalled to Active Duty. From that point on, he was career Air Force, navigating the C-124 Globemaster, C-141 Starlifter, C-130 Hercules, and AC-130 Spectre Gun Ship and becoming a Master Navigator and Instructor. During those years, while Patricia maintained family and home, John navigated aircraft all over S.E. Asia and the world, ferrying planes, transporting military cargo, dropping soldiers into conflict zones, providing air support to troops on the ground, and air lifting out soldiers wounded in action. For the period of 1969-1970, John received the 446 TAW “Outstanding Combat Crew Member” Award. One of his mementos of the period is a plaque awarded by Col. Richard Greene, Commander of the 446 TCW, which reads “Major John ‘Overwater’ Johnson. Best damn navigator in the world or anywhere else.”
For a time, John was attached to the Naval Air Station, New Orleans, Louisiana, with the 926th Tactical Airlift Group, during which time he received the Combat Readiness Medal, and then he was attached to Range Operations at Warner Robbins A.F.B., Macon, Georgia. John was transferred to Patrick A.F.B, Cocoa Beach, Florida in 1975, working in Planning and Control for the Eastern Test Range until his retirement from the military. During this time John navigated C-130 “Hurricane Tracking” aircraft with the 9201th Weather Reconnaissance Group out of Keesler A.F.B., Biloxi, Mississippi. He also put in flight time at Eglin A.F.B., Florida.
John worked another 10 years for the Air Force in a civilian capacity, serving as Deputy Commander of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. He developed a keen interest in the U. S. Space Program and the Cape, interfacing with NASA and government contractors, environmental scientists, archaeologists, historians, journalists, and photographers. In 1990 He was presented the General Lewis H. Berenton Award for Outstanding Contribution to Aerospace by the Air Force Officers Association (Florida). He was also given an award by the 45th Space Wing for his support of the environmental Installation Restoration Program at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
After his civilian retirement in 1995, John volunteered his time at the Air Force Space Museum, the Space Walk of Fame/American Space Museum, and NASA Public Affairs, escorting professional photographers and helping them set up and retrieve remote cameras during launches of the Space Shuttle, looking after several documentary and Hollywood movie crews filming on the Cape, and providing countless personal tours to people interested in the space program and history of the Cape. During this time, he had a small speaking role as the “Pad Director” in the movie Armageddon which was filming at the Cape, and so earned his Film Actors Guild card which he delighted in showing people for years afterward.
John was instrumental in founding the Apollo 1 Memorial Foundation which honors the memory of the three Astronauts (Grissom, Chaffee and White) who tragically lost their lives in the capsule when it caught fire during a pre-launch test on pad 34. John and the Apollo 1 Foundation were involved with the annual memorial ceremonies honoring the Apollo 1 crew and the two Space Shuttle crews that perished in flight. John also served for a number of years as a judge for the Central Florida High School Science and Engineering Competition. For several years now, the Apollo 1 Foundation has provided a scholarship to a graduating high school student demonstrating interest and aptitude for scientific study.
When his son Edward joined Merritt Island Scout Troop 369 in 1977, John renewed his interest in scouting, becoming in turn Assistant Scout Master, Scout Master, District Camping Chair, and District Eagle Board of Review Chair. Along with his son, John was inducted into Order of the Arrow. He was renowned for his camping and fireside cooking skills at Camp La-No-Che. Long after his son achieved his Eagle award, John continued to mentor young men and help them achieve the rank of Eagle Scout. In turn, John is a recipient of the District Award of Merit, the Silver Beaver Award, and the National Eagle Scout Association Outstanding Eagle Scout Award, conferred in 2017 by the Central Florida Council of the Boy Scouts of America.
John was predeceased by his parents Bernard and Alice, and by five of his siblings: Edward (Ted) Johnson, Bruce Johnson, Bertha Johnson McGee, Gordon Johnson, and Anne Johnson Sellers. John is survived by Patricia Jane Johnson, his devoted wife of 64 years, and by his two children, Cynthia Lynne and Edward B. Johnson. John is also survived by his siblings Gay Johnson Matheson and Bernie Johnson, along with numerous nieces and nephews, scouts, colleagues and friends.
John will be buried with military honors at the Birdston Cemetery, Streetman, Texas, at 3:00pm Friday, July 19, 2019 with Rev. Kevin Diggs officiating. A Celebration of Life is planned for late August in Florida.
In lieu of flowers, if you so desire, you may make a donation to the Central Florida Council of the Boys Scouts of America, 1951 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Ste. 102, Apopka, FL .