Leon William Johnson
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1926
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)
Leon William Johnson
General Leon William Johnson was a U.S. Air Force 4-star general and World War II Medal of Honor recipient.
Leon William Johnson was born on 13 September 1904 in Columbia, MO, and moved to Moline, KS, as a teenager. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in June 1926. He later received a Master of Science degree in Meteorology from the California Institute of Technology.
World War II
Johnson was one of the first four flying officers of the Eighth Air Force and served as Assistant Chief of Staff for Operations for that command during its formative period at Savannah, GA. He accompanied the Eighth Air Force to England in June 1942. In January 1943, he assumed Command of the 44th Bombardment Group and, in June of that year, took the group to Africa to assist the Ninth Air Force in the attack on the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. For his part in that raid, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Medal of Honor
Rank and organization: Colonel, U.S. Army Air Corps, 44th Bomber Group, 9th Air Force.
Place and date: Ploesti Raid, Rumania, 1 August 1943.
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry in action and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 1 August 1943. Col. Johnson, as commanding officer of a heavy bombardment group, led the formation of the aircraft of his organization constituting the fourth element of the mass low-level bombing attack of the 9th U.S. Air Force against the vitally important enemy target of the Ploesti oil refineries. While proceeding to the target on this 2,400-mile flight, his element became separated from the leading elements of the mass formation in maintaining the formation of the unit while avoiding dangerous cumulous cloud conditions encountered over mountainous territory. Though temporarily lost, he reestablished contact with the third element and continued on the mission with this reduced force to the prearranged point of attack, where it was discovered that the target assigned to Col. Johnson's group had been attacked and damaged by a preceding element. Though having lost the element of surprise upon which the safety and success of such a daring form of mission in heavy bombardment aircraft so strongly depended, Col. Johnson elected to carry out his planned low-level attack despite the thoroughly alerted defenses, the destructive antiaircraft fire, enemy fighter airplanes, the imminent danger of exploding delayed action bombs from the previous element, of oil fires and explosions, and of intense smoke obscuring the target. By his gallant courage, brilliant leadership, and superior flying skill, Col. Johnson so led his formation as to destroy totally the important refining plants and installations which were the object of his mission. Col. Johnson's personal contribution to the success of this historic raid, and the conspicuous gallantry in action, and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty demonstrated by him on this occasion constitute such deeds of valor and distinguished service as have during our Nation's history formed the finest traditions of our Armed Forces.
Johnson's Medal was awarded to him on 7 September 1943.
On his return to England in September 1943, he organized the 14th Combat Wing and commanded it until the end of the war in Europe.
Post World War II
After V-E Day, he was assigned as Chief of Personnel Services, Headquarters Army Air Forces in Washington, later becoming Deputy to the Assistant Chief of Air Staff for Personnel. In April 1947 he was assigned to Strategic Air Command as Commanding General of the Fifteenth Air Force at Colorado Springs, CO.
The Air Force returned to England for the first time since World War II when General Johnson organized the Third Air Division (later redesignated the Third Air Force) there in August 1948, as a separate major command of the U.S. Air Force. The division provided facilities for maintenance and support of Strategic Air Command aircraft on rotational training missions to Europe and for transport aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift. In February 1950, Johnson was appointed, in addition to his other duties, Chief of the Military Assistance Advisory Group for the United Kingdom.
In February 1952, he was named Commander of the Continental Air Command at Mitchel Air Force Base, NY. He was appointed U.S. Air Force Representative, Military Staff Committee, United Nations in July 1953, in addition to his primary duty as Commander of Continental Air Command.
Three years later he was named the U.S. Representative to the North Atlantic Military Committee, Military Representatives Committee and Standing Group of NATO, with duty station in Washington, DC. He was promoted to General on 31 August 1957.
General Johnson next assumed duties in May 1958 as Air Deputy to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, at SHAPE Headquarters, Paris, France. He retired on 31 July 1961 with more than 34 years of military service. Six weeks later he was recalled to active duty to become the Director, Net Evaluation Subcommittee Staff/National Security Council, with duty station in the Pentagon.
After leaving the Air Force, he settled in McLean, VA, and worked as a consultant. His hobbies included growing flowers, and he was president of the National Capitol Dahlia Society.
Medals, Awards and Badge
Medal of Honor
Command Pilot Badge
In 2008, Johnson's grandson donated his Medal of Honor to the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle, PA, which holds a large collection of material relating to the 44th Bomb Group.
Death and Burial
General Leon William Johnson died on 10 November 1997 in Fairfax, VA. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, next to his wife, Lucille Taylor Johnson, who died in 1983. Their graves are located in Section 7A, Lot 209, Map Grid U-23/24.
He was survived by two daughters, one of whom married the son of U.S. Air Force General Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
|Honoree ID: 76||Created by: MHOH|