NORTHFIELD — It has been 75 years since Harvey D. Johnson, a 23-year old pilot from Northfield stationed in London, made a decision that would save hundreds of lives but cost him his.

On Nov. 19, Johnson’s family and many others came to an open house at American Legion Post 295, which is named in Johnson’s honor. Letters and memorabilia about Johnson filled the tables in the post. They talked about Johnson, the circumstances that led to his death and fact the people of Walthamstow, England, still honor the young pilot they never met but whose legend has survived three-quarters of a century.

According to his half-brother Paul Johnson, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who has done a great deal of research on his brother, who died years before he was born, Harvey was a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps at the time of his death and was scheduled to go on a reconnaissance mission across the English Channel, taking photos with other members of the squadron, but had engine problems and stayed behind. He set off on the flight the following day, only to have further mechanical difficulties.

“He was flying over the neighborhood of Walthamstow when he started to have engine difficulties,” his brother said. “It was a pretty densely populated town, and he knew that a lot of people could be killed if he bailed out and let the plane crash. So he directed the plane to a nearby soccer field. It was too short to land on, and the plane crashed and Harvey was killed.” The crash was Nov. 22, 1942.

The United States entered World War II in 1941, but the British had already suffered heavy losses from the German blitz of London in 1940 and were very happy to have the Americans in the fight.

“Harvey’s death was significant to the British and certainly to the people of Walthamstow who knew that he had made the choice to guide his plane to its crash landing in order to protect those people living nearby,” said Paul Johnson.

While Paul Johnson said he cannot say with 100 percent authority, he was told Winston Churchill contacted Harvey Johnson’s mother to express his condolences after the crash. The younger Johnson said his brother has the distinction of having his name read aloud in the British House of Commons noting his bravery and sacrifice.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously, and the letter is signed by General George Marshall.

A quick Google search of Harvey D. Johnson will give many newspaper accounts of the events of that day. A memorial in honor of the young pilot was constructed using part of the propeller from his plane with a plaque from the people of Walthamstow.

Paul Johnson and his wife, Terry, have traveled to Walthamstow several times, as have other members of the extended Johnson family. All who commented during the open house said they were treated like honored guests during their visits. An active historical society has kept many detailed records of Harvey Johnson.

Jeff Long, of Northfield, attended the American Legion open house. He wanted to learn more about the man whose name is on the building. Long said he did a little research and found a Facebook page, Walthamstow Memories, and after some communication with a person associated with the Walthamstow Historical Society, he explained that an open house commemorating Harvey Johnson’s crash was set for Nov. 19. In his honor that day, on both sides of the Atlantic, a moment of silence was held for Johnson at 4 p.m. in Northfield and 9 p.m. in Walthamstow.

Terry Johnson said Harvey Johnson’s monument is stored in the basement of the Walthamstow Historical Society and suggested what a wonderful thing it would be to be able to bring that memorial home to have outside the building that bears Harvey’s name. Mark Doherty, commander of the Northfield American Legion, said he is in full support of bringing it to a final resting place in Northfield.

Harvey D. Johnson American Legion Post 295 is located at 232 W. Mill Road in Northfield. For additional information, call 609-233-0216.

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