William M. Johnson, a pilot veteran of World War II and the second pilot ever hired by the new aviation department of John Deere, died late last year. He was 88.
The Rock Island, Illinois native studied one semester at Augustana College before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which enabled him to fulfill a life dream of being a pilot. He was deployed off the Coast of North Carolina during World War II, when he primarily flew P-51s as a fighter-pilot trainer. Known for a wide grin, a clever sense of humor and his storytelling skills, Johnson served Deere as an executive pilot for 36 years.
"I didn't know who John Deere was, but I knew he had a plane with his name on it," he periodically said, according to the column written by a niece.
Deere was one of the first American companies to create an aviation department and Colonel Wieman hired Johnson as his second pilot once he completed his military service.
Among the tales he delighted in retelling was being the pilot of the first corporate flight into China. He transported a vice president to the meeting where he was appointed chairman. He savored the experience of fulfilling responsibilities for a global corporation's executive lifestyle.
Johnson died December 30. His wife of 62 years had preceded him.