Major Gerald R. Johnson
Jerry Johnson was born in the small town of Kenmore, Ohio. He entered the U.S. Army Aviation Cadet Program in the spring of 1941, and completed his training in May of 1942. Johnson was then sent to the 54th Fighter Group of the Eleventh Air Force in Alaska. Flying P-39 Airacobras and P-40 Warhawks, Johnson was to take part in fifty-eight combat missions in gales, fog, sleet, and snow. These conditions were described as being the worst in the world! With the Japanese forces in the Aleutians being isolated by a sustained bombing campaign, a more urgent need for fighter pilots was developing far to the south.
Lieutenant Johnson was among a number of young pilots transferred from Alaska to Australia and was assigned to the 49th Fighter Group of the Fifth Air Force.
On July 26, 1943, planes from the 49th and 348th Fighter Groups flew up to the Salamaua area to intercept the Japanese. They caught 10 Oscars and 10 Tonys over Markham Valley. As they manuevered into position, one of Johnson's flight couldn't drop tanks, another blew a supercharger, and other planes escorted these two back home. Johnson was alone. In the ensuing dogfight, Johnson chased a Ki-43 Oscar off Capt. Watkins' tail and shot it down. Suddenly an inline-type fighter came at him. Both pilots opened up instantly. The heavy, concentrated fire of the Lightning tore off the Kawasaki's wing, and as the stricken fighter tumbled over and at him, it smashed into his port tail assembly, tearing it away. Johnson regained control of the crippled P-38, and three pilots of the 39FS escorted him back to Horanda strip. Johnson was credited with two victories, but his plane, #83 Sooner, was scrapped.
Johnson was promoted to Captain and CO of the 9th FS, the "Flying Knights" in August, 1943.
On September 3, 1943, the P-38's of the 49th FG were assigned the job of flying escort for a formation of B-17 Flying Fortresses on a bombing mission to Cape Gloucester on the western tip of the island of New Britain. Johnson caught one of the Japanese fighters as it was coming off a firing pass at the B-17's. With a long burst from his P-38's machine guns, he sent the enemy plane into the ocean. Johnson quickly maneuvered behind another enemy plane and blew it out the sky at point blank.
The Americans quickly seized Lau and Salamaua, which caused the Japanese to mount a fierce counter-attack. The Japanese sent out a large formation of Zero fighters and Val dive bombers on October 15 to hit the Allied invasion fleet anchored in Oro Bay. The 49th was alerted to the formations, and their P-38's tore the formations to shreds. Johnson downed a Zero and a Val as well as two probables. On October 17, the Japanese mounted another strike, this time with a formation of Lily bombers protected by Oscars and Zeros. Again, the P-38's of the 49th savagely attacked the formations, with Johnson downing two more enemy aircraft. In late October, Johnson, having demonstrating his leadership and flying ability, was promoted to Major.
Having been sent home in the spring of 1944, Johnson returned for another tour of duty in the summer of 1944. He resumed command of the 9th Fighter Squadron, and was given the added responsibility of being deputy group commander of the 49th. Preparations were now underway for General MacArthur's return to the Philippine Islands. During the first two days of September, Johnson and the 9th Squadron were among the units given the job of eliminating the major enemy air bases at Davao and Mindanao. The 9th was then ordered to escort a formation of B-24's and B-17's over 1000 miles in distance (more than eight hours in the air), and allowed only one B-24 to be shot down. Another mission on October 14 was equally successful.
While leading a formation of P-38's on December 7, 1944, Johnson spotted a large formation of Japanese fighters and ordered an attack. Johnson came up fast behind one of the enemy fighters and quickly turned it into a fireball. Johnson immediately spotted another enemy aircraft and, using a perfect deflection shot, quickly destroyed it as well. That was two enemy downed at the hands of Johnson within one minute. Johnson then tore off after a Helen bomber and proceeded to destroy it as well. Those three victories for Johnson gave him twenty total kills, and he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
During the spring of 1945, the 49th Fighter Group occupied Clark Field and were concentrating on providing ground support roles. They were particularly effective in delivering napalm bombs which devastated enemy installations, which made an invasion of the Luzon unnecessary. By August, 1945, Japan surrendered, and Johnson elected to remain in the Air Force.
A little over a month after the war ended, Johnson was to show his courage and bravery one last time. Piloting a B-25, which had been pressed into service as a transport aircraft, Johnson flew into a typhoon and was hopelessly lost in the black skies. He ordered everyone to bail out, but one person neglected to bring a parachute. Johnson immediately gave his parachute away and tried to fly the B-25 back safely. Johnson's copilot also elected to stay behind to help Johnson, but both were killed when the B-25 was on approach. Lt. General George C. Kenney, commander of the Fifth Air Force during WWII, told Johnson's father "You are the father of the bravest man I ever knew and the bravest thing he ever did was the last thing, when he did not need to be brave." Johnson finished the war with twenty-two victories and was awarded with the DSC, DFC, Silver Star, Air Medal, and Legion of Merit.
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