Monday, May 27, 2024

Avenue of Heroes: Clarence R. Johnson

Prepared by: Bruce HB Johnson (son)

CAPT Clarence R. ‘Johnny’ Johnson, was to Naval Aviation what John Glenn was to NASA – a trail blazer and a true American hero!

He was born December 13, 1921, in Sioux Falls. While attending high school in Marshalltown, Iowa, he met the love of his life, Margaret Anne ‘Peggy’ O’Bryon, earned a pilot’s license, and graduated with honors.

He joined the Navy in 1942 and was commissioned an Ensign in 1943. Later, he was assigned test pilot at NAS Anacostia. In December 1943, he married Peggy prior to his South Pacific deployment flying F6F Hellcat fighters. While assigned to Seventh Fleet, he volunteered for hazardous duty, working with Philippine resistance to reconnoiter Japanese airfields.

Following WWII, he was assigned to North Island. CAPT Johnson and Peggy purchased a home in Coronado and started a family. In 1952, he transferred to VC-35, a Night Attack Training Squadron. Then, he was assigned CO of VA(N)-21, attached to Fighter Squadron 194 aboard USS Boxer (CVA-21). During operations in Korea in 1953, he was awarded his
3rd DFC with valor for ‘heroism and extraordinary achievement’.

In 1959 CAPT Johnson assumed command of VF-53 — the “Puking Dogs” – and deployed aboard USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14). Forerunner of TOP GUN, his squadron won military flying and shooting competitions with Johnson as high scorer. With his skill and leadership recognized, he was granted an unprecedented follow-on command tour. When top brass
decided to reduce aircraft armament, Johnson convinced leadership that cannons were critical, reversing their decision.

A proud naval aviator, he flew everything from biplanes to jets to bombers. He had multiple deployments and 2000+ carrier landings. He was selected as Navy’s test pilot for McDonald Douglas aircraft. He co-coordinated recovery of Apollo 12 astronauts and was instrumental in planning OPERATION HOMECOMING in 1973 for returning American POWs.

He was highly decorated with 32 combat decorations, 3 DFCs with a V, Legion of Merit, 2 Meritorious Service Medals and 26 Air Medals. Admired by subordinates and seniors alike, his legacy includes dancing with Marilyn Monroe and dining with Prince, now King Charles. He retired in 1974 after 32 years of service.

CAPT Johnson passed away peacefully on May 5, 2009. He lived a most full and rewarding life. He is survived by six children, thirteen grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren.

The Avenue of Heroes Program is a military service recognition program sponsored by the City of Coronado. Introduced in 2014, the program has honored 230 hometown heroes to date. On May 20, 2023, another 15 were honored. City staff and volunteers from the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2422, the Coronado Historical Association and the Third and Fourth Streets Neighborhood Association oversee its operation. In 2011, the program was inspired spontaneously with the movement of two Navy SEALs to their final resting place. News spread quickly throughout the city and the local Rotary Club passed out American flags. People lined Fourth Street to honor the fallen service members. As the procession approached the San Diego-Coronado Bridge, a lone Navy SEAL stood at attention, saluting as he waited for the passage of his comrades. At that moment, it was clear that Third and Fourth streets were already an Avenue of Heroes. From that spontaneous beginning, the program was launched in May 2015 with 18 banners. Ceremonies are held twice yearly and men and women with ties to the community have been recognized from the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. The Avenue of Heroes program is a reminder that Coronado has a rich history and legacy of service to country.

Bella Villarin
Bella Villarin
Bella is a proud military brat who has been a resident of Coronado since 2015. She was born in Japan, and after a short stay in Virginia, traveled extensively throughout Asia while living in Singapore and picking up another language. A senior at Coronado High School, Bella can be found at the driving range or golf course when not in school, studying, writing, playing the guitar, or spending time with her family. Have news to share? Send tips, story ideas or letters to the editor to: [email protected]

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