B-17 Flying Fortress Pilot to Finally Receive Medals After 76 Years of Waiting

Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force
Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force

B-17 Flying Fortress pilot Joyce Johnson will soon receive the long-overdue medals that he earned while fighting in the war. Johnson, who is currently 99 years old, is set to receive the medals on his birthday. He is finally being given the medals that are rightfully his after previous unsuccessful attempts by his family. Dick Krom, director of the Veterans and Emergency Services Museum, heard about their struggles and made it his mission to get Johnson his medals.

Joyce Johnson’s WWII career

Johnson flew the Boeing B-17 heavy bomber during WWII. He was part of the U.S. 8th Air Force from 1944 to 1946 and participated in the group’s last bombing mission of the war. After the war’s end, he continued on in non-combat roles photographing and mapping Europe, as well as becoming a test pilot.

B-17E Heavy bomber
Boeing B-17E. (Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force)

Despite his wartime achievements, Johnson never received his medals; the reason why is still unknown.

His family had attempted to obtain his medals before but were not successful. Fortunately, the family met Dick Krom about five years ago at a veterans event. As mentioned, Krom is the director of the Veterans and Emergency Services Museum and helps to protect the memory of war veterans. He became invested in helping Johnson after listening to his WWII exploits.

Krom was extremely shocked when he discovered Johnson had not received the medals he was rightfully owed. He said, “I was absolutely flabbergasted when I found out that he had never gotten the medals and ribbons that he had earned, and then I started doing research.”

When WWII began, Johnson tried to join the military as a pilot, but he was turned away because trainee pilots needed two years of college education, something Johnson didn’t have. Later, the U.S. would relax its recruiting standards, allowing Johnson to become a pilot.

Getting the medals

To prove a veteran is owed awards from when they served, you need to provide the correct documentation. Krom said, “You can’t get any of the stuff unless you got the papers which prove that he had served.”

Unfortunately, Johnson’s documentation was missing.

His son had made an attempt to get his medals before, but he was informed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that a fire in a record-storage building had destroyed Johnson’s documentation. Without this, the family thought they were at the end of the road.

“We had given up on the idea,” his daughter, Vicki Hoover, said.

Krom advised Hoover to check Johnson’s home for any documents relating to his service. She managed to find his 75-year-old discharge papers, which contained the medals he earned. These were: Unit Citation, an American Theater Medal, an Army of Occupation Medal, an Air Medal, a Europe-African-Middle-Eastern Theater Medal with two Bronze Stars, and a Victory Medal.

With Johnson’s discharge papers, Krom sought to get the medals himself. But he was told that even with this documentation, the process could take months or even years, due to lengthy government processes and the ongoing administrative delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the war hero approaching his 100th birthday, Krom feared he didn’t have years, so he approached a company that makes medals directly.

This direct route is, according to a veterans services official, a good idea: “It’s important for our mature veteran population who did their time, they got home and they got busy living. Now in their mature years or waning years, people are like, ‘Hey, tell us about your war experience?'”

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Thanks to Krom’s efforts, Johnson will be awarded his medals on his 100th birthday. Both Johnson and his family are incredibly grateful.

“It’s quite a surprise to us,” Hoover said. “We weren’t expecting it at all. Our family is extremely grateful to Mr. Krom for his countless hours of work and determination to make this happen, and to make it a very special event to celebrate both Dad’s service and his 100th birthday!”

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE