Johnson, Wallace

Wallace Johnson was born in Taft, California on April 18, 1925.  His father worked for the Standard Oil Company, and he worked in Havana, Cuba, where Wallace spent his early years.  Political instability fell over Cuba in the early 30s though, and the family relocated to Houston, where they found themselves in the midst of the Depression, and forced to deal with the early death of Wallace’s father.  Circumstances were difficult, and the family found themselves on the dole.  Wallace worked where he could – shining shoes, delivering Western Union telegrams, and selling newspapers.  At the age of 16 he begged his mother to let him join the navy – in the summer of 1941.  Wallace was at first rejected as he was underweight, but a big helping of bananas took care of that, and Wallace was in the navy!  Later that year – on December 7, 1941 – the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the US was pulled into the war, and so was the 16-year old Wallace.  He was assigned to the USS Jamestown, a torpedo boat tender, and sent to the South Pacific, where Wallace would see action in the battles of Guadalcanal and Tulagi and later the Philippines.  He saw than a 16-year old should have, but Wallace fulfilled his duties as the US island-hopped towards Japan, in the end dropping the two atomic bombs to bring about VJ Day.  As World War Two came to an end, the Navy sent Wallace to Chicago, where he was trained as an electronics technician/specialist.  The end of the war did not mean the end of Wallace’s time in the navy:  he elected to make it a career, and a few years later he was deployed to Korea, where he served aboard the USS Toledo.  While in the navy, Wallace took advantage of many educational opportunities, and on the side he got his pilot’s license and even became a flight instructor.  When the time to leave the navy came, Wallace took a job at North American Aviation, where he flew as a civilian on B-52s, instructing navigator-bombardiers on the new technology of the day.  From there Wallace – incredibly – went on to be a test pilot for the Apollo program, helping to prepare the astronauts for what awaited them in space – yet another incredible chapter in a remarkable life.  With the 80th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wallace returned to Hawaii, where he and the other veterans were celebrated and honored.  Crestwood students were very lucky to be able to zoom with Wallace Johnson on several occasions in November and December 2021.