When Col. Milton W. Johnson died in 2003, he left copies of his military paperwork, medals and photos from World War II and Korea to his friend and pastor, Mike Finley.
Finley, who loves the U.S. military and war heroes, thought that Johnson’s memory should be kept alive. So when Finley learned about the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, he decided to nominate his friend for induction.
“To me, it’s the definition of tragedy for these heroes to be forgotten,” Finley said in a Sept. 30 interview. “I didn’t even know that Oklahoma had a Military Hall of Fame until I think it was three years ago, and I first thought of him. So that’s why I nominated him, to keep his memory going.”
A native of Roff, Johnson will be inducted posthumously into the Military Hall of Fame Oct. 26 at the Embassy Suites Conference Hotel in Norman. The induction ceremony and banquet will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m.
Eleven other veterans will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during the event. A memorial to the USS Oklahoma and the 429 soldiers and Marines on board, who were killed in the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, will also be part of the event.
Johnson was born Oct. 16, 1918, at Roff, according to the Military Hall of Fame. He graduated from Roff High School in 1936 and joined the Oklahoma National Guard’s field artillery unit.
Four years later, Johnson graduated from Oklahoma A & M in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree and a commission as a second lieutenant of the infantry through the ROTC program. He finished flight school in 1942 and joined the U.S. Air Force, then completed flight training in Tulsa and Texas and was sent to Australia.
He was later sent to Port Moresby, New Guinea, where he served briefly with the 3rd Bombardment Group, according to Mike Finley. He trained with the unit as a forward echelon before the 417th unit arrived in New Guinea and was with the unit full time after the 417th arrived.
Johnson’s first combat mission was bombing and strafing the Japanese at Saidor, New Guinea.
Johnson became a lieutenant colonel in June 1944 and took over leadership of the unit when the previous commander was killed, according to the Hall of Fame. During that period, he flew 307 combat missions.
Johnson was activated when the Korean War broke out and joined the 3rd Bombardment Group, where he remained for his entire time in Korea. He was promoted to colonel and flew night missions into Korea and to the Yalu River for 11 months.
He spent seven more months flying in Korea and completed 55 combat missions overall before retiring in 1961.
During his military career, Johnson earned three Silver Stars for his heroism in the Southwest Pacific Theater of Operations, according to the Hall of Fame.
He earned his first award May 18, 1944, for flying to help rescue bomber crewmen who were floating on a raft and being attacked from the shore. Johnson took off and circled over the raft to draw enemy fire, then strafed the enemy and provided flying protection until a seaplane could rescue the men.
Five months later, Johnson earned his second Silver Star when he helped rescue two crew members of a plane that had crashed. His third Silver Star was awarded for his actions on Jan. 7, 1945, when he led a 72-plane formation which bombed and strafed a heavily defended airfield that was in Japanese hands.
“His gun failed to fire at the beginning and a concussion from a land mine caused the bomb bay doors to be sprung,but he continued leading the formation,” Hall of Fame officials wrote.
Johnson also received other military honor during his career, including three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Legion of Merit award and a Purple Heart.
He died July 18, 2003, in Ada.
Mike Finley said he met Johnson and his wife through the First Baptist Church in Roff, where Finley was the pastor. Finley became friends with the couple, who were almost like his parents and grandparents.
“They were just good people,” Finley said. “Very friendly, very approachable, good down-to-earth people.”
Finley described Johnson as a kind, considerate man who was blessed with a good sense of humor and loved dogs and history. The two men often talked about a variety of subjects, including the Bible and Johnson’s military service.
Johnson was proud of his time in the military, but he did not brag about it, Finley said. Instead, he focused on being part of a team and winning the war for his country.
Since Finley nominated Johnson for the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame, he is planning to attend the upcoming induction ceremony and say a few words on his friend’s behalf. He said he thought his friend would be excited about the honor.
“He would be proud, yes, but he would be very humble about it,” Finley said. “I could just see him kind of hanging his head in humility, but at the same time being proud.”