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ISSUE: Museum remembers Vanley Johnson
OUR VIEW: Learn from our past in this new year
Because of his death in 1954, the world never would know it, but Vanley Johnson did have the right stuff.
Part of the greatest generation, he became a heroic pilot who served in two wars and was teaching other pilots when he died. Smoke suddenly appeared in the cockpit and despite their best efforts, the crew was unable to find its way to a nearby airport.
It’s said the crash left a crater 12 feet deep and 30 feet wide in the remote Utah desert that’s part of the Booneville Salt Flats where risk-takers set speed records and military test flights occur routinely.
His life ended suddenly a long way from home. His influence did not.
Born 31 years earlier in the Flint Hill area of Hardin County, Johnson’s service took him across the globe in defense of America. One of 11 children, his memory shines brightly among his family and now holds a place of distinction in the Hardin County History Museum.
Last month, the museum dedicated its first U.S. Air Force exhibit as a tribute to Johnson. It contains his uniform, a photo and plaque plus his miraculously recovered dog tags.
In 2009, 55 years after the crash took his life, Johnson’s bent dog tags were found by a woman who was at the Salt Flats for a racing event. Roy Creel, president of the Southern California Timing Association, was one of the men who took it upon themselves to return the item to Johnson’s family.
Creel said the dedication was meant as a tribute and thanks to Johnson, who served his country and sacrificed his life on a training mission.
After digging up crash records, finding Johnson’s obituary and overcoming problems caused by a typo in the information, he eventually managed to contact deeply appreciative family members here. One of the key links in the mystery was an Internet search that turned up information about Johnson on the Hardin County History Museum’s website.
The inspiring stories of dedication have brought tears to many eyes and the resulting accomplishments remain daily on display for all to see.
Perhaps it’s time in this new year to dedicate ourselves more fully in the pursuit of our past. The first step: A resolution among all Hardin Countians to visit the History Museum in 2012. It awaits us at 201 W. Dixie Ave. in Elizabethtown and offers a preview online at www.hardin kyhistory.org, which includes a virtual tour.
Take the walk through yesteryear and discover who we were in order to better understand who we are and who we could be — if we can duplicate the right stuff of people like Johnson.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.