NORTHFIELD — American Legion Post 295 bears the name of Harvey D. Johnson, one of the first Northfield residents to be killed in World War II.
On Sunday an open house at the post commemorating the 75th anniversary of his death will give visitors a chance to get to know more about this hometown hero.
From 3-5 p.m., photos, letters written by Johnson and accounts of his bravery will be available to view, and some of his family members will be there to speak to visitors.
Second Lt. Harvey D. Johnson would have been 98 had he survived the war, according to his half brother, Paul Johnson, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, who was born after Harvey died.
Harvey Johnson was 23 when he was killed Nov. 22, 1942 in Walthamstow, England. He was engaged to a Scottish girl, and they planned to marry over Christmas of that year.
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Paul Johnson said his brother lived in Northfield and graduated from Pleasantville High School, where he was an outstanding football player.
“He wanted to be a pilot from the time he was a kid,” he said. “He joined the Army Air Corps in 1940 and when he washed out of flight school he headed to Canada and joined the Royal Air Force, where he qualified to be a pilot.”
In 1940, before the United States got involved in the war, the German blitz of London destroyed airfields and planes, and the British were in search of pilots. Harvey Johnson was a member of the Eagle Squadron manned by U.S. citizens.
He completed RAF pilot training in April 1942 and by October he was able to transfer to the Army Air Corps.
“Coming out of the Depression, I think Harvey saw becoming a pilot as an opportunity for himself,” Johnson said.
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Harvey Johnson was scheduled to go on a mission across the English Channel 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 people of Walthamstow appreciated Johnson's efforts to spare them from harm, and erected a monument in his honor at the site of the crash that contains a piece of the propeller and a plaque.
Mark Doherty, commander of Harvey D. Johnson American Legion Post 295, said Johnson was mentioned by name in the British House of Commons and that Winston Churchill mentioned Johnson by name, saying the country was in debt to Americans like Harvey Johnson for their bravery and honor, and giving his life to save hundreds of others.
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Johnson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions over Walthamstow that day.
Norma Johnson of Northfield, who was married to Harvey Johnson's younger brother Bob, will be at the open house Sunday with Paul and other family members to talk about Harvey and share family memorabilia.
Doherty said the invitation to visit the post, which was renovated over the last four years with help from a group of youths called the Post Crashers, is open to everyone.
"Harvey Johnson was a true hero, and the 75th anniversary of his sacrifice is a terrific story to share." Refreshments will be served.
The post is at 232 W. Mill Road, across from the Otto Bruyns Library, where parking is available.
For information call 609-233-0216.