General Leon Johnson, who received the Medal of Honor for his action during the famed Ploesti raid, is one of America’s most highly acclaimed air combat leaders of World War II. A West Point graduate, he was commissioned into the Infantry in 1926. Deciding “things looked more interesting from the air,” he transferred to the Army Air Corps in 1929 and entered pilot training. After flying observation aircraft for 5 years, Lieutenant Johnson gave up his temporary rank of captain to study meteorology at Cal Tech. He then served as a weather officer at Barksdale Field until 1939, when he returned to the cockpit to fly bombers at Savannah, Georgia. Shortly after America entered the war, he was one of four pilots who activated Eighth Air Force and, in June 1942, traveled with this newly formed unit to England.
Six months later, Colonel Johnson assumed command of the 44th Bomb Group, then flying B-24D Liberator bombers. In July 1943 he led his group, known as “The Flying Eightballs,” to North Africa in preparation for Operation Tidal Wave–a 2,400-mile mission to attack the Ploesti oil installation in Romania. As a result of this daring low level raid, Ploesti ceased to exist as “the tap root of German mechanized power.” Following the raid, Johnson was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 14th Combat Bombardment Wing in England, a position he held until the end of the war.
After the war, he organized and commanded the 3rd Air Division in England, which helped maintain the transport aircraft used in the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift. General Johnson took charge of Continental Air Command in 1952 and was promoted to lieutenant general the next year. Following this tour, he held a United Nations’ post, pinned on his fourth star in 1957, and then became the Deputy for Air to the Supreme Allied Commander, Europe. His last active duty assignment was with the National Security Council. General Johnson retired in 1965.