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Richard D. Johnson
Cullum No. 20252-1955 | August 11, 1965
Died in Edwards AFB, CA
Interred in West Point Cemetery, West Point, NY
Born in New York City in 1932 to Oscar and Olive Johnson, Richard Damon Johnson spent most of his boyhood in Cornwall, NY. Growing up in the environment of West Point, Richie developed an early aspiration to attend USMA. After graduating from high school, where he excelled in academics and athletics, Richard entered Stanton Preparatory School in Cornwall. That year of study and physical training prepared him well for admission to West Point in July 1951 with the Class of '55.
Assigned to Company E-l, Richie quickly acclimated to the military regime. Throughout the following four years, he energetically applied his talents and knowledge, especially in athletics. After serving on the basketball, baseball, and soccer corps squads during Plebe year, he later concentrated his athletic prowess on the soccer field. Playing center forward, Richie distinguished himself as a stalwart member of the team under Coach Joe Palone. During his First Class year, he spearheaded the team's successful season as the high scorer with eight goals.
While meeting the stringent demands of the academic and tactical departments and the Corps Squad schedule, Richie still found time to serve as a Cadet Chapel usher and participate as a member of the Flop Committee. Moreover, Richie's conduct and demeanor marked him as a leader for which he earned corporal stripes during Cow year. As a First Classman, Richie served as battalion adjutant in the rank of cadet lieutenant.
Following graduation and choosing the Armor Branch, Richie married his high school sweetheart, Carol Ann Seelman of Firthcliffe. His first assignment was to Ft. Knox, KY, where he demonstrated his future potential for the Army by graduating first in his class. Thereafter, Richie and Carol headed for Germany, where he began service with the 6th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Their family grew with the addition of two sons, Richard and Mark.
Following service in Germany, Richie decided that he would prefer to serve as an Army aviator and requested an opportunity to attend flight school. Upon acceptance of his request in I960, he was ordered to the Army Aviation Training Center at Ft. Rucker, AL. Having earned his Army Aviator Wings, Richie requested and received transfer to the Army Transportation Corps in 1961. He was then sent to pursue a graduate degree in aerospace engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute. While a student at Blacksburg with several members of his West Point class, he gave freely of his time and talent to assist others through those difficult 'hoops.' To help Richie and other Army aviators maintain flying proficiency, the Army stationed a Ft. Meade-based L-19 Bird Dog at the VPI Airport.
For relaxation and relief from studies, Richie made good use of the university golf courses. In 1963, he earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering. The title of his thesis attests to the complexity of the theory that Rich absorbed during this academic tenure: A Study of the Range of Validity for the Method of Kryloff and Bogoliuboff as Applied to a Satellite in Motion with a Specified Constant Thrust. After departing VPI, Rich reported to the 15th Aviation Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, in Korea. Throughout that hardship tour, he flew armed OH-13 aircraft along the DMZ. Those helicopters, modified with two 30-caliber machine guns, were the precursors to the future Army 'gunships."
In 1964, Richie was assigned to Edwards AFB, CA, as an Aerospace Engineer with the Tri-service VSTOL Activity. All personnel on the Tri-service team greatly respected Richie for his intelligence, technical knowledge, and sense. He was very popular with team members and, of course, classmates. Dan Dugan, John Wing, Jimmy Heye, Hank Klung, Cy Cassells, Gerry Tebben, Al Worden, and Bill Welter also were assigned to Edwards AFB at the time.
While on a transition flight to Yuma, on 11 Aug 1965, the twin-engine U8 Beechcraft Bonanza Richie and MAJ Austin K. Veatck '50 were flying slammed into the ground during a violent thunderstorm in the northeastern portion of the Edwards AFB Test Area, killing both pilots instantly. The accident in which Richie died later became a case study for students at the Army's Aviation Safety Course. Richie was posthumously promoted to the rank of major.
John Wing escorted Richie's body back to West Point while Bill Welter escorted Carol and the two little boys to their home near West Point. A Requiem Mass was celebrated at the Most Holy Trinity Chapel at West Point, followed by burial with full military honors at the West Point Cemetery.
In the '90s, Dan Dugan visited the Virginia Tech campus where Dan Ludwig has been a professor for the last nine years. They were pleased to find Richie's name inscribed in the memorial book and engraved on one of the eight 35-foot stone pylons above the Memorial Chapel overlooking the Drill Field, the VPI parade ground in the center of the campus. VPI, now Virginia Tech, memorializes all graduates who die while serving in the Armed Forces in their memorial book, VPI Alumni Who Died in Service. The stone engraving reads, 'RICHARD D. JOHNSON '63."
Richie Johnson had the 'total package' - brains, personality, can-do attitude, friendliness, dedication, perseverance, good looks, humility, and a father that marked him to be blessed with great leadership potential. His unfortunate early death precluded the fulfillment ofhis potential and constituted a significant loss to his family, friends, and country. He died as he lived, striving to learn more by preparing himself to be the best of the best. Rest at peace, admired and cherished classmate.