Left, T. J. Johnston, a WW II pilot and longtime Boeing employee from West Seattle, and now Des Moines, was awarded a French medal of honor today at Wesley Gardens where he lives, by Washington State's Consul Honoraire de France, Jack A. Cowan, a Tukwila resident.
WW II pilot, longtime Boeing employee from West Seattle awarded French medal of honor
More than 100 attended a moving award ceremony in Logan Hall, Wesley Gardens in Des Moines Saturday afternoon, July 28, as WWII pilot, Theodore J. Johnston, or "T.J", 89, also a Boeing employee prior to, and after the war, was officially honored with a medal, the prestigious "Chevalie Légion d’Honneur". Jack A. Cowan, Seattle-based Consul Honoraire de France for the State of Washington, and a Tukwila resident, pinned Johnston with the badge.
Johnston's friend, Paul Beeman hosted. Both live at Wesley Gardens. Beeman honored Des Moines resident Janette Swecker, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution who reenacts Betsy Ross in Highline grade schools, for bringing Johnston to Cowan's attention.
In Feb. 1944, Johnston was awarded pilot wings and left for the European theater to free France. He was assigned to the 8th Air Force, and then to the 398th Heavy Bomb Group as a pilot in B17's. He flew 30 missions over Germany.
He became captain in 1945. He attended St. Martin's University in Olympia, then UW, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in industrial design. He lived 37 years in West Seattle, while working those years in many Boeing departments. Beginning in 1986 he was a docent for the Museum of Flight. He was active with the Fauntleroy Church and West Side Presbyterian Church.
"The French people will never forget what you and all the American veterans did to restore our freedom," Cowan said as he read an official document. "It is almost impossible for me to imagine how much courage and bravery you must have had to fight with France during World War II, to save, as you did, France and Europe from utter destruction. Courage and bravery are precisely the qualities that Napoleon wished to reward by the creation of the Légion d’Honneur in 1802 (...)
He continued, "Your decisive contribution to the liberation of France and Europe, and your wish to fight for the human conscious and peace of tomorrow are the reasons the president of the French Republic, Francois Hollande, has decided to award you the highest recognition by the French Government (...) Thanks to you, people of my generation were allowed to grow up in a free country."
"Merci beaucoup," Johnston responded. "I am delighted to receive this award. It's so great and so unexpected..."
T.J.'s brother, Norman, and T.J.'s sons, sister, brother, in-laws, two cousins, and nieces attended. A moving tribute by his oldest son was given to his mother and T.J.'s late wife, Dorothy, also a Wesley resident who passed away last year.
The West Seattle Herald reported on another such medal winner from West Seattle, honored at the Museum of Flight, Henry Sanford "Sandy" McMurray, which you can read about here.