by Melissa LaScaleia
The Air Force Cross is a military honor given to a member of the United States Air Force. It is the second highest honor that could ever be bestowed on a soldier. This decoration is concomitant to military honors from other branches of the United States military: the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, and the Coast Guard Cross.
It was first implemented January 8, 1964, for “Extraordinary heroism while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States.” There have been 202 medals awarded since its inception. The reverse of every cross is engraved with the recipient’s name.
Paul T. Johnson was a pilot with the 354th Tactical Fighter Wing stationed out of Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. He was born in Gadsden, Alabama April 26, 1958, and joined the military in 1985, commissioned as a second lieutenant. He served as a Captain during Operation Desert Storm during the Gulf War in the early 90s.
On January 21, 1991, Captain Johnson was assigned to lead an expedition to fly an A-10 aircraft along with his co-pilot, Captain Randy Goff, to conduct a search and rescue mission for a missing Navy pilot, Lieutenant Devon Jones. Captain Johnson was responsible for organizing the rescue, and performed feats of daring unprecedented in the previous history of A-10s, to achieve a successful outcome.
On the mission, Captain Johnson risked his life, flying at 500 feet above ground to spot the surviving downed pilot— a height that made him an easy target for his enemy. As he was flying, he found and destroyed three armed Iraqi missile sites. As he was nearing the location of the downed pilot, he saw an enemy truck headed directly for that pilot’s crash site. Captan Johnson intercepted the truck’s advance, shooting and destroying it, and directed a helicopter to the site to rescue Lieutenant Jones. The search that he lead took the A-10 deeper into enemy territory than any other A-10 had ever been, and was a milestone in the accomplishments of the weapon’s system. The mission took over six hours, and during that time, he had to refuel aerially three times.
Captain Johnson was awarded the prestigious Air Force Cross for his heroism on this campaign, daring in the face of the enemy, superior airmanship, and superb orchestration of events to achieve a successful rescue. His was one of two Air Force Cross medals awarded during Operation Desert Storm. It was presented to him at the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base during a base ceremony in 1991, by General John Michael Loh, Commander of the Tactical Air Command. Captain Goff was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
In addition to his feats in the Gulf War, Captain Johnson was the commander of the 355th Fighter Wing and the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing. He was also part of Operation Northern Watch, and Operation Enduring Freedom.
He retired in 2016 with the rank of Major General. His awards include: the Air Force Cross; Defense Superior Service Medal; Legion of Merit; Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star; Defense Meritorious Service Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; and the Air Medal.