Lt. Robert Joseph Johnson
Robert Joseph Johnson was born 6 November 1918 in Boston, Mass. to Joseph and Irene Biewend Johnson. Robert had an older brother and sister, Ingas and Leif, and two younger sisters Irene and Helen. Mr. Johonson was an Evangelical Lutheran Pastor and Mrs. Johnson was involved with Mission Societies.
The family moved from Boston to Minneapolis, MN, then to Jamestown SD by 1930 where they lived on St. Paul St. West. Robert was quite popular with the girls, had a great sense of humour and was an avid swimmer and lifeguard.
Lt. Johnson had a happy childhood and an optimistic view of life. He had a playful spirit and was someone others enjoyed being around. His family did a lot of traveling together cross country and into Canada.
Robert entered Concordia College, Moorhead, Minnesota, Sept 14, 1936 and graduated with a B. A. June 3, 1940. On November 26, that year he enlisted in the US Naval Reserve for 4 years. On March 6, 1941 he accepted the appointment and became a cadet with the US Naval Aviation and reported to Air Station Pensacola, FL for training. In August he received his wings as a Navy Aviator as Ensign. On October 1, 1943, Robert was promoted to Lt.
At dawn, August 17, 1944, VF-74 Squadron, Flight #21, lifted off from the deck of the USS Kasaan Bay. The flight of 6 Hellcats, followed a course to the coast, proceeding inland seeking enemy troops on the road and concentrations of troops beyond Brignoles. At Cuers, upon entering the valley country, visibility became poor, smoke and haze lay close to the ground and an electrical storm was developing ahead. The two division separated, the flight leader taking his division to Tourves and on to St. Zacharie on a northerly route around the mountains, which rise to 2200 '. Lt. Robert J. Johnson ( who with his wingman, Lt. (j.g.) John D. Frank, did not return from this flight) led the second division on a southerly course direct to Cuers to St Zacharie, where the divisions then rejoined flying NW to Fuveau and swinging back East to Trets. The flight continued a short distance ENE toward Pourcieu, but found no objectives, swung around to the WNW, past Aix, where it was joined by two Spitfires, w3hich directed attention to enemy truck convoys.
"Visibility was poor" the flight leader says, "we were weaving done the highway outside St. Cannat.". If one of the pilots saw a truck, he went down after it. A concentrated strafing attack was made on a truck convoy near Lambec. The flight leader reports that all eight planes were still together at this point and Johnson called him. It was the last call from either Johnson or Frank. Neither flight leader nor any other pilot that returned from the mission knew at what time or place Johnson and Frank become separated from the flight. The returning pilots reported at least eight strafing attacks, either by single planes or two or more diving in turns. They claim a total of 19 trucks or other motor transports burned or destroyed and 10 more trucks damaged and a tank destroyed.
Lts. Johnson and Frank lost contact with their formation of of F6F-5 Hellcats due to low ceiling and storms near the mountain of Sainte Victoire. After trying in vain to resume contact, they joined a formation of of the Royal Navy composed of 12 F4F Wildcats from the escort carrier of Task Force 88. The flight attacked a troop convoy just to the south of St. Cannat. The report indicates the formation of Hellcats and Wildcats attacked in low level flight, 30' above ground, where flak cut down the Lts. Frank and Johnson.
Lieutenant Robert Joseph Johnson, flying an F6F-5's Hellcat, while engaged in an attack mission Brignoles to Oraison, France on August 17, 1944, became separated from the remainder of his flight at about 18:40B of that date has been missing since. It was determined it was not due to his own misconduct.
From information set forth, it is the opinion that Lt Johnson with wingman Lt Jg. John D. Frank, either crashed or was forced down in an area which at that time was enemy held. Lt John G. Bartley was a member of the flight engaged in an attack mission Brignoles to Oraison, France, on 17 August 1944, when the two Lts became separated from the group. There the visibility became poor, smoke and haze lay close the ground, ceiling was lowering, and an electric storm area was developing ahead. The formation selected and attacked various targets in the areas of Saint - Zacharie, Fuveau, Trets and Peynier, thance the flight continued a short distance toward Pourcieu and continued past Aix-En-Provence with all eight planes together. After attack near Lambesc, separate targets were selected and attacked, after which the flight returned to base, landing. Shortly after attack near Lambes, Lts Johnson and wingman Frank called Lt. Bartley on a matter of general routine to the flight. This was the last heard from him. Due to the visibility being poor and the scattered formation of the flight, he had separated from the group.
A witness, Honore Massa, farmer at Rogne stated: "Plane entirely destroyed, plane was already too low when the airman parachuted His identification was found on the body.
Lt. Robert Joseph Johnson was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Area Campaign Medal, Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Presidential Citation..
Buried in a civilian cemetery in Rognes Bouches du Rhone in the presence of the inhabitants and towns surroundings come to accompany him to his last abode Aug 18 1944. Wrapped in his Navy parachute, Johnson was buried in the vault (vault) of Mrs Jood's son who had died when deported by the Germans. Shot down by Flak during strafing German column near the entrance of St Cannat.
29 October 1945 Johnson was reburied at the US Military Cemetery, Luynes near Aix-In-Provence, Plot B., Row 15, Grave 178. Lt. Robert J. Johnson and Lt. John D. Frank, with 29 military Army, Air Forces, Navy were returned in United States for final buried 4 October 1948, Final buriel was 24 February 1948 at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery St. Paul, Minnesota
On May 14, 2002, a monument and memorial service was held in St. Cannat, France was dedicated to Lt. John Dismas Frank and Lt. Robert Joseph Johnson. This was attended by delegates from the United States, including the sister, Irene Johnson Rygg and family of Lt. Johnson, Cmdr Leo Horacek and Cora, former pilot of their squadron , other families of the pilots, representatives of the "French Memory " and "National Order of Merit" organizations, and the officials and people of St. Cannat.
After the beautiful ceremony and dedication, a reception was held for the participants.
The information for this Memorial for USN Lt. Robert Joseph Johnson has been supplied by the researcher in France, Mr. Marcel Ertel. Thank you for making this possible. Thanks to Mr Charlie Kourajian Mayor of James Town ND for his assistance to discover the sisters of Lt. Johnson Thank you, Lt. Johnson, and all our military men and women, for your sacrifice for Freedom.
"People sleep peaceably at night because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf"......George Orwell
"Lord, hold our troops in your loving hands.
Protect them as they protect us. Bless them
and their families for the selfless acts they
perform for us in our time of need. I ask this
in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Web Page January 15, 2003
NOTICE: All research materials regarding VF-74 and VOF-1 Squadrons, including but not restricted to, documents, research, photos are the exclusive property of the French Military Historian and Researcher, Mr. Marcel Ertel, Les Villettes, Haute-Loire, France. The personal photos of various pilots provided by their families are the exclusive property of the pilot's families. Phots from the collection of Captain Harry Basore, USN, remain the exclusive property of Capt. Basore. Mr. Ertel, Captain Basore and the families have graciously permitted me to use the information for this Memory Album dedicated to those pilots. Thank you all.
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