Faces of Honor

Wayne Johnson was part of the first raid on Japanese airbases in Shanghai, China, during World War II. A fighter pilot with the Flying Tigers, it was the most exciting mission he ever flew.

Wayne Johnson was part of the first raid on Japanese airbases in Shanghai, China, during World War II. A fighter pilot with the Flying Tigers, it was the most exciting mission he ever flew.

"It was a surprise raid and we destroyed 94 enemy airplanes on the ground, and we had 16 fighter planes of our own," he said. "We didn't lose any of ours. We were young at the time and thought we were invincible."

Johnson of Silver Bay was one of about 150 marchers in Saturday's Veterans Day parade, the first in Duluth in more than 50 years.

Veterans who fought in Vietnam, Korea and Iraq, World War II, and the Gulf War walked together -- some in uniform and some in civilian clothing -- but all wearing faces of honor.

Johnson, 85, was proud to walk with fellow veterans on the route from the Armory on London Road to the Depot, and was pleased with the turnout of supporters -- about 200 people waving and shouting their thanks along the route.


"It's important that people are showing the degree of patriotism that they are," he said. "For a long time, patriotism wasn't popular."

But it was when Johnson enlisted on Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, "There was probably a mile of guys standing in line at the recruiting station," he said.

The Flying Tigers was initially a volunteer group that became part of the U.S. Army Air Force, Johnson said, adding that it was the only fighting air unit that the U.S. had in the Far East after Pearl Harbor was bombed.

He flew P-40 and B-51 planes, and belonged to the 23rd Fighter Group, which he said was responsible for the most destruction of enemy aircraft of any group its size.

"It's very important that the American people remember that sacrifices were made in the cause of freedom," Johnson said.

John Hed, a retired World War II colonel from Duluth, watched the parade because he couldn't make the walk. He's concerned that Tuesday's election outcome will affect the current war.

"It's just a crime," the 86-year-old said. "We're going to be fighting these insurgents for many years and we've got to start standing up to them by not getting out of Iraq."

Petty Officer 1st Class Tad Farrell recently returned from his second tour in Iraq. He was honored to march behind Duluthian Mike Colalillo, who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945.


"Marching with veterans from World War II to Vietnam to Korea -- I mean these people went through hell," he said. "It's quite an honor ... knowing that they paved the way for us to have the life we have."

The 38-year-old Floodwood man has served in the military for 21 years. While in Iraq in 2003, his battalion discovered a World War II British cemetery in the city of al-Kut. It had been turned into a garbage dump under Saddam Hussein, he said, so he helped clean it up and rededicate it to British soldiers.

"It was a thank you for sticking by us during the invasion," he said.

Col. Mark Johnson, commander of the 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth, wanted to thank the veterans after the parade, as he addressed them with a well-known military poem written by Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps:

" 'It is the soldier, not the reporter; that has given us freedom of the press. It is the soldier, not the poet; who has given us freedom of speech. It is the soldier, not the campus organizer; that has given us the freedom to demonstrate. It is the soldier who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.' Never, ever forget."

JANA HOLLINGSWORTH is a general assignment reporter. She can be reached Tuesdays through Saturdays at (218) 279-5501 or by e-mail at jhollingsworth@

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