“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.
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[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.]