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Ted Johnson, 80, Tuskegee Airmen pilot

Ted Johnson, 80, bomber pilot with Tuskegee Airmen

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/10/06

Ted Johnson cherished his fellow Tuskegee Airmen and held up the vanishing breed of WWII African-American aviators as an object lesson in social progress.

He spent 15 years compiling a database of thousands of people associated with the elite band of pioneering black pilots and sold CD-ROM copies of his research so more people could learn about their lives.

'It was the Tuskegee Airmen who made America come to its senses,' Ted Johnson said last year.

"I think everything should be done to pass their story to future generations of Americans," he said six months ago in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.

"It was the Tuskegee Airmen who made America come to its senses," he said, "that individuals should be judged on their accomplishments, rather than their ethnicity and color."

At 80, the former bomber pilot was one of the youngest members of the group. The Alabama native was a junior at Alabama A&M College when he was drafted into the Army. He graduated from the Tuskegee Army Air Field's flight school in 1945 and retired from the U.S. Air Force as a major in 1965.

Theopolis William Johnson of Atlanta died Sunday of cardiac arrest at Crawford Long Hospital. The body was cremated. The memorial service is 11 a.m. today at Murray Bros. Cascade Chapel.

Mr. Johnson settled in the Los Angeles area and after leaving the Air Force, worked for the Social Security Administration until his 1985 retirement.

In 1996, the then 70-year-old traveled to Atlanta for one of the many Airmen reunions he never missed. The widower struck up a conversation with a widow he met, whose late husband had been a Tuskegee Airman, too.

Everything they discussed, down to their favorite drink of rum and Coke, made them feel perfectly matched.

"He was very much from the old school, so he asked my permission to call me when he got home," said his wife, Jewel Johnson.

Two months later, they were married, and Mr. Johnson moved to Atlanta.

The jazz devotee had courted his second wife with mixed tapes of romantic mood-setters like Erroll Garner's version of "Misty" and long-distance deliveries of roses and jewelry.

"I didn't recognize my mother because she was like a schoolgirl on the phone for three and four hours a night," said Mr. Johnson's stepdaughter, Monique Thompson of Los Angeles. "For them to find love again at that point in time became such an inspiration for all my single girlfriends, and everyone wanted to come to that wedding."

Mr. Johnson stayed busy traveling to national Tuskegee Airmen conventions and threw himself into the Atlanta chapter's monthly meetings, said its president, Val Archer of Stockbridge.

"Ted was the ultimate gentleman and a very articulate guy who was a near perfectionist about everything he did," he said. "He was the parliamentarian for our chapter, and he loved Robert's Rules of Order, which can drive everybody else crazy."

Mr. Johnson was hospitalized two days before he was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate degree from Tuskegee University with his comrades.

"Ted loved the Tuskegee Airmen and loved what they represented," his wife said. "It was so marvelous to see him shout out at their conventions when another one of them would come walking through the door."

Survivors include two daughters, Michelle Clisby and Karen Bobo, both of Oxnard, Calif.; two other stepdaughters, Michelle Blanch of Atlanta and Denise Thompson of Marietta; a stepson, Keith Thompson of Marietta; and two grandchildren.

Source: AJC

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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