Photo gallery: Family's quest to find the Norwich boy on a train given a hero's war medals
PUBLISHED: 11:15 26 July 2014 | UPDATED: 07:44 27 July 2014
It was an encounter no four-year-old boy could ever forget.
Sitting on the Norwich to London train during the Second World War, the real-life hero from Texas must have towered above him as he thrilled him with stories about his bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe, and showed him his medals.
And then, before the boy and man went their separate ways, never to meet again, Harold Johnson gave that unknown child a unique souvenir –his Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with Three Clusters, which are individual oak leaves.
Now, 60 years later, Mr Johnson’s three daughters are desperate to trace that boy, and hear his memories of the father they hardly knew after his death in a road accident in 1951.
The airman had quit the University of Texas in autumn 1942 to enlist for military service, and was in flight training when he married in February 1943.
His daughter Mary Lou Johnson Ridinger said: “He was on his way to becoming a pilot when he upset his flight instructor. He then took training to become a navigator. He was sent to North Africa. The Allies had the Germans on the run by then and Dad was shipped to Norwich, England, a month later.”
He completed 40 missions navigating B24 bombers over Germany and France, which was the ticket home for US Army Air Corps flyers.
Ms Ridinger said: “Dad was so relieved that he’d done his duty and he was going home. He didn’t send a telegram to my Mom. He wanted to surprise her. We think he was being sent home the last week in June 1944. He would have gone from Wendling to Norwich then London. A little English boy sat next to him on the train.
“My father gave the boy his medals. We have a photo of my father being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. When was discharged from service Dad was a captain.”
Ms Ridinger said her family wants to share memories with the child who by chance sat next to him on the first leg of his journey home. What did he tell that boy, and what happened to those medals? Will they find out a little more about a man that died when they themselves were only children?
Are you the boy who met Captain Johnson? Do you know about the encounter, or the medals? Help us put you in touch with his family by emailing email@example.com, phoning 01603 772468 or writing to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.