Silver Bay Municipal Airport to be Renamed to Honor WWII Pilot

The airport in Silver Bay will be renamed today to honor a former World War II Flying Tiger who's believed to be the longest-serving city attorney in American history.

The Silver Bay Municipal Airport will be the Wayne Johnson Silver Bay Municipal Airport after ceremonies and festivities, said Tom Porter, chairman of the Silver Bay Airport Commission.

Events scheduled from10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today include a fly-in, a display of World War II training planes, sky diving, a lunch, entertainment, and a flyover by a World War II-era P-51 Mustang.

Politicians, retired generals and other veterans are expected to participate. Johnson is scheduled to arrive in his son's private plane at12:30 p.m., Porter said. The rededication is at 1 p.m.

Johnson, 84, couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

He started flying as a teen-ager in 1937 near his home in Ortonville in west-central Minnesota. He swapped lessons for farm chores.

Four years later, on the day after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Johnson joined the Army Air Corps and was sent to China as a fighter pilot with the famed Flying Tigers. The rag-tag air combat group trained Chinese pilots and helped China counter air attacks from the Japanese. During one 10-week period, the Flying Tigers destroyed more than 200 enemy planes and lost only 16 of their own P-40 Warhawks. Their success paved the way for victories in the Pacific Theater.

After the war, Johnson enrolled at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. True to his farm roots, he vowed to practice in a small town. He settled in the Beaver Bay/Silver Bay area in 1952, about the same time Reserve Mining was developing iron-ore processing operations there.

Johnson helped incorporate Beaver Bay as a township in 1953 and became its first city attorney. Three years later, he helped incorporate Silver Bay, accepting a contract to serve as its attorney as well.

Johnson was a driving force behind the Silver Bay Municipal Airport, which opened in 1965 and replaced a grass strip he and others created about a decade before.

Johnson persuaded Reserve Mining to donate a steel storage building that the airport used as an office and for meeting space. He persuaded the Lake County Highway Department to donate flare pots, and 3M Co. to contribute fluorescent tape, both of which lined the runway and helped pilots land at night.

Johnson helped the community get federal and state money to install electric bulbs. Money he secured paid for runway pavement, expansion and hangars.

In 2002, Johnson was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press