Great-granddaughter learns about Seymour Johnson: the man and the base

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Aaron J. Jenne
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The great-granddaughter of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's namesake visited here Oct. 17, and received a family history lesson she was not expecting.

Jaime Thompson, descendant of Navy Lt. Seymour Johnson, for whom the installation is named, came to the base -- imagining a tour -- but said what she experienced was much more than she could have hoped for.

During her visit, Thompson familiarized herself with the history of Seymour Johnson -- both the man and the base. For the first time in her life, she was able to discover the full legacy left behind by her great-grandfather.

Long before Thompson was a twinkle in her parents' eyes, her great-grandfather was making a name for himself. As a Goldsboro, North Carolina, native, Johnson received his wings in 1929 and later distinguished himself as an accomplished Navy pilot. In 1937, he volunteered for duty as a test pilot, an assignment which eventually led him to making the ultimate sacrifice in service to his country. On March 5, 1941, Johnson was killed while test flying a Grumman F4F-3 Wildcat near Norbeck, Maryland.

The base's name became official on Oct. 30, 1942, when Congressman Graham H. Barden informed the Goldsboro News-Argus "the Army Air Forces Technical Training School in Goldsboro had been named Seymour Johnson Field." Seymour Johnson is the only Air Force base named in honor of a naval officer.

"We were truly honored to have the great-granddaughter of Lt. Seymour Johnson visit us," said Dr. Roy Heidicker, a 4th Fighter Wing historian. "Her family is entrenched into the legacy of not only the service but the military as a whole."

Thompson recalled becoming truly interested in her unique family heritage at the age of 10, when she and her parents were personally invited to an air show featuring the Thunderbirds, the Air Force precision-flying demonstration team.

"At that point, I didn't really understand the significance of that invitation," she said. "As I've gotten older, I've learned to appreciate our family's history and how special it is. Not many people can say that the base they're visiting is named after a family member."

Thompson visited several units on base, including the air traffic control tower and the 4th Security Forces Squadron military working dogs. She was also able to get up close and personal with the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle.

"I was really blown away by the information about the different squadrons, how they're set up, the complexity behind all the operations, and how the teams integrate and work together to make the mission happen," Thompson said. "It's something I have a huge respect for. I'm incredibly honored, and I really appreciate being able to come and see what they do."

Throughout the day, Thompson was equally surprised to see various items from her great-grandfather's life, including his college yearbook and the uniform he wore upon his graduation from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1927.

In addition to learning more about her great-grandfather, Thompson said the trip helped her get closer to her grandmother, who shared several stories she had never heard before.

"The day of my great-grandfather's accident, my grandmother was in the 4th grade and she was nine years old," Thompson said. "He dropped her off at school, and she left her lunch or something in the car, so he came back around. It was pretty sweet because I guess the nuns came back around the corner and caught him with her on his shoulders running around the schoolyard. It was a pretty special father-daughter moment, and that's what she remembers most about that day. Unfortunately, four hours later, the accident occurred that claimed his life."

Many years have passed since that fateful day, and Seymour Johnson's name lives on through the history of the 4th FW and its motto, “Fourth but first.”

"I'm very proud of my family's military service," Thompson said. "I'm humbled that this is something people do for a living. They protect us, and they put their lives on the line every day."