Gerald W. “Jerry” Johnson’s military career began as a second lieutenant fighter pilot with the mighty Eighth Air Force–30 years later he was the commander. Born in 1919, he interrupted his college education in September 1941 to enter the Aviation Cadet Program. Upon earning his commission and pilot wings, he joined the 56th Fighter Group at Bridgeport, Connecticut, flying the P-47 Thunderbolt. In January 1943, his unit deployed to England, and 8 months later, on 19 August, he shot down his fifth German aircraft to become the first ace in the 56th and the second US Army Air Force’s ace in the European Theater.
Johnson assumed command of the 63d Fighter Squadron in February 1944, but on 27 March he was forced down by ground fire and captured by German forces. By that time, he had flown 88 combat missions and scored 16 1/2 aerial victories. He spent the remaining months of World War II in Stalag Luft I. Following the war, he commanded the 62d Fighter Squadron of his old group–the 56th! After graduating from Boston University, in 1950, he returned to flying at Turner AFB, Georgia. There, from 1951 to 1957, he served in many leadership positions. He began as Deputy Commander for Operations in the 31st Fighter Escort Wing, flying the F-84 Thunderjet, and ended as the first Commander of the 4080th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing in the RB-57 Canberra and top secret U-2.
Following three staff assignments and graduation from National War College in 1963, Johnson was named 95th Bombardment Wing Commander at Biggs AFB, Texas, flying the B-52 Stratofortress. While commanding the B-58 Hustler wing at Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana, he was promoted to brigadier general. In 1966, he took command of the 825th Strategic Aerospace Division at Little Rock AFB, Arkansas. He next served as Vice Commander of Second Air Force, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, and then became Commander of the 1st Strategic Aerospace Division at Vandenberg AFB, California. In August 1969, he was selected as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at Headquarters Strategic Air Command.
Johnson returned to combat as commander of Eighth Air Force at Andersen AFB, Guam, in September 1971. As 1972 began, he led the resumption of the bombing, popularly known as Linebacker I, of North Vietnam–the first time since 1968! Under Johnson’s command, the bombing campaign climaxed at year’s end with Linebacker II. After 33 years of distinguished service and over 12,000 flying hours, Lieutenant General Johnson retired in 1974 as the Air Force Inspector General. Lieutenant General Johnson was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1989 and subsequently honored in 1997.