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Hagerstown church honors Tuskegee Airman

July 08, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

Robert "Bob" Johnson noticed two months ago that some of his favorite photographs were missing. Showing scenes from his time as a Tuskegee Airman, the photos were typically displayed on a shelf in his Hagerstown home.

"Then, they reappeared," he said. "I knew something was going on, but nothing like this."

The photos appeared again Sunday, this time on pamphlets passed out to more than 50 people at Ebenezer AME Church in Hagerstown during a surprise recognition in Johnson's honor.

"I've lost my voice," he said. "It was a real shock."

Johnson, 80, did not know about the planned event until he arrived at church Sunday. He has been a member of the church for about 40 years.

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The Pennsylvania native passed the entrance exam for the Tuskegee Airmen - the only black fighter pilots in the military during World War II. When the war ended, Johnson said he made the decision to leave the military and seek a college education.

After graduating from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Johnson took a position as a science teacher and basketball coach at the all-black North Street School. Johnson was the first black teacher and coach at North Hagerstown High School and retired as assistant principal at E. Russell Hicks Middle School in Hagerstown in 1983.

"We just thought that a man who led the kind of life he lived ... it was fitting to recognize him here," said Robert Petties, a trustee of the church.

On Sunday, Johnson was presented a certificate of recognition from Congress for his life of service from Harold "Bud" Otis., chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md. Otis also gave Johnson an American flag that flew above the U.S. Capitol in his honor.

Maryland Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, presented Johnson with a state senate resolution in honor of his service to the community.

"He's a great guy, and an incredible human being," Munson said. "We're very fortunate to have him in the community."

Johnson also received a certificate of recognition from his alma mater, Morgan State University.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean thanked Johnson for his support and for his work in the community.

"Thank you and your wife for all that you do," she said, referring to Johnson and his wife, Patricia Johnson.

Petties said he hasn't known Johnson long, but has already grown to love and respect the man he calls, "Mr. Bob." He said they have a lot in common, including their names.

"But we both love the Lord, and that's the most important thing," Petties said.

He said that when Johnson became a Tuskegee Airman he didn't do it for recognition or to be a part of history. Johnson did it, Petties said, because it was in "his heart."

That has been the trend with all of the achievements in Johnson's life, he said.

"Putting yourself last makes people think of you first," Petties said.

Johnson said he's received many plaques, awards and recognition over the years, but being recognized by members of his own church and the people in his community made Sunday's ceremony very special.

Robert Johnson has served on many boards and committees during his 57 years in Hagerstown, including the board of directors of the Washington County Hospital and the county's athletic hall of fame, of which he is a member.

Johnson works as head of security at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown.

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