Leon W. Johnson

United States Army Air Forces Medal of Honor recipient (1904–1997)

Leon William Johnson (13 September 190410 November 1997) was a United States Air Force general who was awarded the Medal of Honor for leading the attack on the Ploesti oil fields during World War II, and commanded the 44th Bombardment Group and 14th Combat Bombardment Wing during the war. After the war, he commanded the Strategic Air Command's (SAC) Fifteenth Air Force. He was air deputy to the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, at SHAPE Headquarters from 1958 until he retired in 1961, but on later that year he was recalled to active duty to become director of the National Security Council's Net Evaluation Subcommittee Staff at the Pentagon. He finally retired in 1965.

The crews wanted to look up to their commanders. Good Lord, their lives depended on their commander! I never saw crews that didn’t admire their commander unless he was a very poor stick.

A graduate of the United States Military Academy, he was was one of the first four flying officers of the Eighth Air Force, and served on it staff during its formative period at Savannah, Georgia.

QuotesEdit

Strategic Air Warfare An Interview with Generals Curtis E. LeMay, Leon W. Johnson, David A. Burchinal, and Jack J. Catton (1988)

  • Personally, I don’t think we had a sense of mission early in the 1930s. The world had been made safe for democracy not too long before, and there seemed no chance of a war. We weren’t conscious of Hitler. I happened to be in the Philippines during those times, and we had a bomb squadron, a fighter squadron, an observation squadron, and a pursuit squadron over there. We flew around the islands and did our training because that’s what you did in peacetime. I know that we didn’t have a sense of purpose at that time. We didn’t see anything on the horizon; we weren’t worried about anything. We were just worried about getting enough airplanes to fly, and we were worried about getting our flying done.
 
Those Schweinfurt missions were unbelievable. I know that I was fortunate enough to receive the Medal of Honor for fifteen minutes of fighting, over Ploesti, and they fought for about five hours over Schweinfurt. I don’t remember anyone getting a Medal of Honor out of that. I think I would rather do five Ploesti raids than one Schweinfurt.
  • Those Schweinfurt missions were unbelievable. I know that I was fortunate enough to receive the Medal of Honor for fifteen minutes of fighting, over Ploesti, and they fought for about five hours over Schweinfurt. I don’t remember anyone getting a Medal of Honor out of that. I think I would rather do five Ploesti raids than one Schweinfurt.
 
We knew if we had airplanes that could go someplace, we could take them there and hopefully bring them back. I think that was understood by all of us, and that the airplanes could bomb.
  • We knew if we had airplanes that could go someplace, we could take them there and hopefully bring them back. I think that was understood by all of us, and that the airplanes could bomb.
  • The crews wanted to look up to their commanders. Good Lord, their lives depended on their commander! I never saw crews that didn’t admire their commander unless he was a very poor stick.
  • To go back to the issue of the effectiveness of the strategic campaign, I must say that there are only certain things you can do with airplanes. You don’t have to be a genius to know that if you knock out an enemy’s oil, he can’t fly.
  • I never gave a thought to it being atomic warfare only. I was just training the crews, getting them combat capable to do whatever they needed to do. I don’t think we thought of ourselves as world destroyers or world savers or anything. We were given a job to do. I personally believe in disciplining units. I always believed that non-disciplined units were lousy; they never did a good job anywhere. I don’t mean to emphasize strict discipline of the martinet type, but expecting people to do things they are supposed to do, when they are supposed to do them.
  • General LeMay asked, “What’s wrong with SAC?” I replied, “I won’t tell you. I have three young officers here with me who told you, and they mentioned cross-training.” We were so busy fighting our headquarters and trying to get the training that we didn’t have time to do anything else.
  • When we demobilized the Air Force, I was in personnel and we were making plans for an orderly demobilization. I remember being over at the railroad station trying to figure out how many troops could be carried by the railways from San Francisco to various parts of the country as the men came home from the Pacific. General Muir Fairchild was sitting there. “What if the people demand to get out,” he asked? We said, “Well, gee, the plan won’t work.” The men did demand to get out immediately, and I let them out. All of this helps explain the condition of the Air Force at the time. Another example: the records of my wartime group were left on the floor up at Rapid City, South Dakota. Some of them were gathered up and sent to the Pentagon when I was there; but in general, there was no one left even to keep the records of the units from World War II. We started from nothing, from nothing, to rebuild the Air Force. I think this helps explain this lack of readiness all the way through.
  • I think all of us understood the mission, that SAC certainly had priority over everything in all of our minds. I had served enough places and positions in those years to see that. SAC had the mission, really, to deter. We didn’t want war; we wanted to deter war, and the atomic force was going to deter the war.

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