“A Mesa, Arizona mother held a flicker of hope today
that her son would be found some 500 miles off the coast of Ireland
in the teaming, stormy North Atlantic.”
Pvt. Carroll M. Johnson, son of Mrs. Gracie M. Medlin of Openshaw Dairy, Mesa, AZ was one of two Valley paratroopers aboard the Flying Tiger Super Constellations that ditched in the North Atlantic Sunday night, according to a local Phoenix newspaper. The story continued with “Of the 76 aboard, 28 are known rescued, 12 known dead and 16 known missing.” Pvt. “Mac” Johnson was missing.
She and her husband Robert sat listening to radio reports of the rescue operation, some of which erroneously said her son was saved. They clung to hope until the sad news was confirmed. He had died in the North Atlantic ditching.
“Oh dear God help me” Mrs. Medlin said when the reports were corrected.
Mrs. Medlin said that her son had written just four days earlier that he was sending a set of encyclopedias and a dictionary to seven of her sons and daughters still attending school. She has 12 children. Mac had dropped out of the ninth grade in Peoria High School to help support the family, she said, and then joined the Army in spring of that year.
“He is one of the most dependable of all of my boys,” she said quietly.
“It’s now in the hands of the Lord,” she continued.
. . . And that was about it for the public acknowledgement for Pvt. Mac Johnson. The newspapers of the day did not even mention his age of 19. Such was the little recognition afforded this soldier and of others of similar modest means who also perished that night. The U.S. Army sent the family an initial telegram and days later a letter to confirm his death and as far as the Army was concerned, the case was closed. No more to be said.
But that was not the end of Pvt. Mac Johnson as far as his family was concerned. Even after 50 years, he lives as an important part of that family’s legacy. Ray Jordan, of Phoenix, a Mac Johnson nephew, has been committed and persistent in his desire to tell the story of his uncle who gave up his future – his life – in service to his country, and who at that same moment was nearly swept into obscurity. Here is the first part of the Mac Johnson story:
JOHNSON FAMILY REMEMBERS
by Ray “Danny Boy” Jordan, Tempe, AZ
My Uncle Mac was one of 13 children. He was the grandson of a Danish immigrant from the city of Odense in 1875. He apparently had passage on the “Ocean Queen ” from Copenhagen to NYC, paying $25 for his papers via the NY Port Authority, some 17 years prior to the opening of Ellis Island.
The last name “Rosbak” was changed to ‘Johnson’ and great grandpa “Will” settled in the town of ‘Denmark,’ in West “Tennessippi” (between Tennessee and Mississippi where it is hard to tell one from the other). That’s where My Uncle Mac was raised, in the middle of the cotton fields, with 12 brothers and sisters. They all teased him on his birthday, because he was born on April 1st.
So, …Uncle Mac being ‘lost’ in the North Atlantic, somewhere between Danish Iceland and Ireland seems to ‘stay the course’ with our own familial history and ancestry.
Uncle Mac simply ‘disappeared’ and we continue to deal with his loss to this very day. However, your story, Fred, [Born Again Irish, published in March 2007] changes everything for us. Your story of the crash is our story as well. It gives us validity, and it offers us a focal point through which to memorialize our own Celtic Saint: Uncle Carroll Mac Johnson.
There is a story to be told through your story, and a movie to be made. I can’t rest easy until that story is told and a memorial is established. Flight 923 was real, and my Uncle Mac was on it. It happened on his younger brother’s 17th birthday, September 23, 1962.
Uncle Wayne, his brother, was drafted three years later. He went to Vietnam as a Combat Radio Operator with the Marine Corps. His father, Cecil Mac Johnson, was sent into Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima as a “Sea Bee” (combat engineer).
So, combat engineer duty is what my Uncle Mac wanted to pursue. After engineer training at for Leonard Wood, Missouri, he went on to Fort Benning, Georgia, where he graduated from paratrooper school as an airborne combat engineer. The newspapers never even mentioned his military specialty. He was proud to be an airborne combat engineer.
My Grandmother, Gracie Mae, received mail from Uncle Mac a few days after his graduating as a paratrooper. He had sent a set of dictionaries to his younger brothers and sisters, a day or two prior to his departure to Germany from Fort Dix (The same place where I too completed basic training when I was 19, the same age as Uncle Mac.)
The Family Learns of the Bad News
It was my Aunt Glenda who ran up the road and got my mom and told her that something was wrong with my Grandmother, their mom. Aunt Glenda said, “Come quick. Something’s wrong with Mama. It’s something about Mac. Mama just heard something on the radio and it has something to do with Mac.”
My Mom said she found my grandma in a daze. She hardly could tell her anything. There was something about a plane crash and that the Department of the Army had been trying to locate her. They had moved from a Dairy farm in Mesa to another Dairy Farm in Tempe after Uncle Mac had shipped to Basic. The Army still had the old address at the Openshaw Dairy in Mesa.
My Grandmother Gracie Mae was an only child. Her young mother died toward the end of 1918, apparently from Spanish Flu, when she was only three years old. Ironically, my Grandmother Gracie’s matrilineal Great-Grandmother Mary Murphy had 13 children too, dying in childbirth at the age of 37. Her 13th, her little Charles, survived.
It is so easy to harbor feelings of hurt and anger toward the Department of the Army for the loss of Uncle Mac. Even more hurtful, I know that my grandparents never even received a penny of insurance settlement. They received absolutely nothing! Apparently, the insurance company (SGLI??) claimed that Uncle Mac hadn’t paid his monthly insurance premium, even though a buddy claimed that he and Uncle Mac went to personnel and paid their premiums together (at Fort Dix I assume) a day or two before they boarded the flight.
All of it is so heartbreaking and I’m left shaking my head, in disbelief. We lost Uncle Mac, and we got nothing in return outside of a telegram and a letter of sympathy from the Army. Not even a visit or words of consolation from a live human being. All we have is a parachute photo of Uncle Mac at Fort Benning and his Class A portrait from basic. Other than that, we have an entire lifetime of loss, heartbreak and disillusionment.
My Uncle Mac was somebody. Not just brief name and “presumed dead” in the newspaper. And I so much want to do something in his memory, for him, for my mom, for my aunts and uncles. I simply have to do something in the spirit of his memory.
So, with the unbelievable publication of your book (Born Again Irish), at last we have a medium, something to rally around, share common ground, to reunite, and to tell the story. It’s the foundation for a film script, Fred. If we can get your story on screen, at last, we could share your incredible story of Flight 923 with the rest of the world.
Your story is my Uncle Mac’s story. The damned plane was forced to ditch at sea, in the middle of the night. And that’s not even the half of it.
It’s a story of sheer survival, riveting, and real. And my Uncle Mac was caught smack-dab in the middle of it. What does one do now? I mean, good-God! What an absolute nightmare after more than 45 years later (Editor’s note: after the publication of the book in 2007).
I cannot live the rest of my life and not do something in memory of my 5’7”, 140 pound, 19-year-old Uncle: Pvt. Carroll Mac Johnson; Combat Engineer, 82nd Airborne Division.
He was from Tennessee, just like Sergeant York, All-Americans. His Grandfather immigrated through Ellis Island. And his Father fought with the Seabees at Guadal Canal and Iwo Jima. And his little brother fought in Vietnam as a Marine.
Uncle Mac came from a long line of Tennessee sharecroppers forced into the Civil War at Shiloh one Sunday morning in 1862. They were simple people. They tried to make a simple living. Mac Johnson was someone from somewhere and he meant something to somebody and his spirit continues to live on.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – –
[Editor’s note: After considerable research into the ditching, and especially of the young troopers who died or went missing in the crash, the preceding story is not simply an isolated sentiment. Others shared similar situations of modest and humble means and were similarly passed over in history. This web site is a memorial and to some extent a historical document intended to give recognition and meaning to all of the many people who were involved.]
Interesting story with remarkable family history!
Raul, thankyou so much for your reply; My Uncle Mac really did come from quite a line of Southern Share-Croppers, who seemed to find themselves in the middle of wars & cottonfields. I admire your courage in writing to President JFK. Not many people can say that they wrote a letter to JFK! I was born on an Air Force Base in New Mexico 9.125 months after President Kennedy was Assassinated. -RFJ
Raul, I have one more connection to the 1960’s & RCA Victor, one that I failed to mention: My dad worked at the RCA Factory in Indiana for a few years after he was discharged from the Air Force; I remember walking & running past the plant on numerous occasions as a 1970’s Tween-ager in Bloomington. It was there that I developed a lifelong admiration of RCA TVs, one that continues to this very day. I buy everything RCA. And I still am much more than a Fan of RCA Records’ #1 selling Recording Artist: Elvis! I couldn’t help but notice your resemblance to EP in that Army photo of you wearing your cold weather cover in Deutschland. A child of the 60’s can’t help but be a fan of the 1962 film “G.I. Blues” with Elvis & …Juliette Prouse!
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Fifty-Two years after My Uncle Mac was Lost at Sea on FT Flight 923, he certainly would be proud to know that his endless familial memory & Airborne inspiration has contributed to his grand-nephew becoming the Starting QB at a Major Division 1 NCAA Program in the Southwest. Uncle Mac’s Legendary Status in our Family continues to Inspire us all to go ‘Airborne’ in every endeavor that we desire to pursue. His Blood runs through our veins and his spirit lives in our hearts.
Surely Uncle Mac Would have been delighted to know that the Air Force Academy offered his Grand-nephew a Football scholarship. -Airborne!
Hey Ray Ray, it’s Kimmie !!!! I was just discussing grandfather to a guy and out of curiosity, thought what the heck? Let me Goggle grandfathers name and see what happens…. To my surprise, I came across this article. Very emotional !!! A lot of my family history’s questions are slowly being answered. Being the first female of our family, that I am aware of, also was part of the US ARMY and now pursuing my career in Law enforcement. Also, keeping my fingers crossed my oldest will be a Junior this up coming year and we are pushing to get him recruited to a D1 college within the next few years. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree?! He will be excited to know that there is someone other than him interested in football in our family gene pool. This article and webpage has def brought sunshine to this chicks day!!!
Ohhhhh: Kimmie!!! I’m so excited to hear from you, Dahlin’!!! Airborne!!! It’s not too late to go to Jump-School, Kimmie! Ha!! Ooh-rah!
Kimmie, my phone # is 602-339-7946; auntie Anne’s Grandson Tyler Rogers (Cousin Pammie’s son) is Starting at QB for New Mexico State U:) He first accepted an offer from the Air Force Academy, but then backed out of the offer in favor of the Starting Job at NMSU. Tyler Started all 4 Years at Liberty High School in Peoria.
In fact, I myself started at QB as a 12-year-old with None other than a kid named ‘Jon Gruden.’ ha! Jon was a much better Shortstop than he was a QB!
I walked-on as a Defensive Back at Ball State in 1984 before transferring to Indiana U the following year, running the ball as a scat-back on the Scout Team. We started the season 4-0 that year, defeating Louisville, Missouri, Navy, and Northwestern; we were ranked 25th in both polls; several guys from that ’85 squad went pro, including Tim Jorden, Tim Green, Steve Bradley, Bobby Howard, Leonard Bell, and David Schnell. I got hurt after scoring 1-time too many on the Starting Defense; they nearly put me in the Hospital; my right ankle still snaps, crackles, and pops!
I drove the Shuttle Van for Boise State when they were here for the 2006 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. I got to know Head Coach Charlie Petersen & All-American Running Back Ian Johnson!
Kimmie, let me know how I can help your son aecure a D-1 Full-Ride; my nephew Tyler Jordan just completed 4 years Pitching at Ball State. I can help your son, Kimmie!!
Your very proud Cousin (of a Police Officer!!), your cousin Ray-Ray!!
602-339-7946; Ray Franklin Jordan III: Linkedin.com
This was my uncle and to read how meaningless the military excused his life! His death! And his legacy makes me literally sick to my stomach! I remember my mom (mac’s sister) waking up crying because of nightmares about her lost, young, dearly loved little brother. I personally never got the honor of meeting Mac but his brother Wayne was one of my most treasured, adored and loved uncle’s. Who also lost his life because he served his country and could not un-see horrific things.
This article made me cry with fists clinched tight. To those of us who were affected by this tragedy.. He will NEVER be forgotten!
I’m Mac Johnson’s niece Marilyn. I have fond memories of uncle Mac. I loved him so much, he was so fun to be around. News of his death was devastating, although I really wasn’t old enough to understand what was going on. Then I became feeling guilty because I did some things to him at 5 years old I think. Till this day I regret it, but my memories of him are great ones. I hope this is made into a real truthful story.
Carrol Mac Johnson was my uncle along with my uncle Wayne and my granddaddy Cecil Mac Johnson RIP love you guys