19 May 2004


Don't you find it amazing how many important people have turned up at one time or another in Papua New Guinea? Me, too. (Okay, maybe just Errol Flynn, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and one or two others.) One such VIP was LBJ, who accompanied a bombing run over Salamaua on 8-9 June 1942:
Nine days after the raid, Lyndon Johnson was awarded an Army Silver Star medal, the nation's 3rd highest medal for valour, by General MacArthur's chief of Staff, Major-General R.K. Sutherland for his participation in the above bombing raid. He often wore this medal during his term as President of the United States. He refused to discuss the details of how we won the medal. His citation read:
For gallantry in action in the vicinity of Port Moresby and Salamaua, New Guinea on June 9, 1942. While on a mission of obtaining information in the Southwest Pacific area, Lieutenant Commander Johnson, in order to obtain personal knowledge of combat conditions, volunteered as an observer on a hazardous aerial combat mission over hostile positions in New Guinea. As our planes neared the target area they were intercepted by eight hostile fighters. When, at this time, the plane in which Lieutenant Commander Johnson was an observer, developed mechanical trouble and was forced to turn back alone, presenting a favorable target to the enemy fighters, he evidenced marked coolness in spite of the hazards involved. His gallant action enabled him to obtain and return with valuable information.
After President Roosevelt ordered all members of Congress in the Armed Forces to return to their legislative duties, Johnson was released from active duty under honorable conditions on 16 June 1942. In 1949 he was promoted to Commander in the Naval Reserves to date from 1 June 1948. During his time in service, Johnson was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. After he became President following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Johnson's resignation from the United States Naval Reserve was accepted by the Secretary of the Navy effective 18 January 1964.
Of course, Johnson also spent time in Townsville, Queensland, Australia, but I've never been there, so that hardly counts.

Here's more on the controversy surrounding LBJ's silver star in PNG. Opinion Journal's Best of the Web reports:
It turns out Lyndon B. Johnson's silver star, which we noted in an item yesterday, is a matter of some controversy. CNN reported in 2001 that its own "review of the historical record raises new questions about the circumstances of its award by Gen. Douglas McArthur nearly 60 years ago."

Historian Robert Dallek--who contributed the chapter on LBJ in our forthcoming book, "Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House" (order it from the OpinionJournal bookstore)--tells CNN he concluded that "there was an agreement, a deal made between LBJ and Gen. MacArthur. And the deal was Johnson would get this medal, which somebody later said was the least deserved and most talked about medal in American military history. And MacArthur, in return, had a pledge from Johnson that he would lobby FDR to provide greater resources for the southwest Pacific theater."
Of course, there also seems to be some controversy about John Kerry's medals in Vietnam.

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