Al Johnson, of Port Charlotte, Fla. attended University of South Carolina on a football scholarship, playing defensive cornerback for his team.
After graduating with a degree in business administration, he also became an “officer and a gentleman” when gold second lieutenant’s bars were pinned on his shoulders following graduation from the ROTC program.
Johnson got out of school about the same time the Korean War ended in summer 1953. He decided to join the Air Force to meet his military obligation.
“I signed up for pilot training and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, for basic,” he recalled. “From there I went to Bryan Air Force Base also in Texas where I flew T-28 trainers.
“My assistant flight commander was Capt. Gus Grissom,” — one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts who trained to fly into space. “He was a very nice, quiet guy. He told me my acrobatic skills were good.
“I was flying with an instructor in formation at 9,000 feet when the engine on our T-28 Trojan trainer quit. We couldn’t get the engine restarted so my instructor said, ‘If you’d like to jump, go right ahead!’ “‘No sir’, I said. “I’m staying with the plane.”
“He landed in an unauthorized area covered with mesquite trees,” Johnson said. “I was in the front seat and he was in the back. When the plane landed it went nose down and tail up. I jumped out of the cockpit with only a scratch on my knee. I looked back and saw the plane smoking, but my instructor hadn’t gotten out. I went back and pulled him out of the wrecked plane. He had broken his back.
“After graduation from flight school I was assigned as an instructor pilot at Bryan,” he said. “After several years as an instructor pilot I was assigned to Germany.”
At this point in his 20-plus-year career in the military, Johnson went into the personnel business in the Air Force. He was reassigned to Turkey and became involved in the global personnel, training and management of Air Force records.
“We had 70 people in our outfit when I arrived in Ankara, Turkey, that performed a variety of different global assignments involving personnel bookkeeping for servicemen in Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and Greece. After my first year there we were rated No. 1 in the Air Force as the top consolidated Air Force Base Command worldwide.”
After two years at this post, Johnson was reassigned to Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany as adjutant of a field maintenance squadron. He spent a couple more years in this position. By now he was a captain who had been in the Air Force for over a decade.
He was reassigned to global special activities with the Air Force Office of Special investigations in Washington, D.C. A short time later he was moved to Office Records as special assistant to the Director of Personnel.
“I helped establish a global personnel management operation for the Air Force mail delivery. We moved all the mail for the Air Force,” he said. “I was working out of Springfield, VA. for Col. Andrew Di Antonio. For the next five years I worked for him flying the globe to conferences around the world.
“I was given the job of flying aboard Pan American Airlines Inaugural nonstop flight from New York to Paris with a small sack of Air Force mail.”
By then Johnson was a major.
His next reassignment was Deputy Air Base Commander, Takhli Air Force Base in Thailand. He ran the base on a day-to-day basis. It was the home for an F-111 aircraft wing that flew combat missions over Vietnam during the war in the ’70s.
“I became air base commander of Naha Air Force Base in Okinawa,” Johnson said. “I worked there until the end of the Vietnam War in 1975 when I retired from the Air Force after 21 years of service as a lieutenant colonel.”
He decided to stay in Okinawa after he became a civilian. Johnson went into the garment- manufacturing business on the island. He sold clothing and leather goods produced by a small staff of women for resale in Germany.
After four or five years in the clothing business he and his wife, Pranom, returned to the U.S. They moved to their Port Charlotte home in the 1990s. The couple has three children: Claude, Thanin and Angela.
Name: Albert Wilson Johnson
D.O.B: 27 Feb. 1931
Hometown: Fort Pierce, Fla.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service:13 Sept. 1953
Rank: Lieutenant Colonel
Battles/War Service: Cold War
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 21, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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