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Retired bomber pilot featured at breakfast

by on November 14, 2019 1:24 PM

CENTRE HALL — Colonel O.J. Johnston was the featured speaker at a veterans recognition breakfast held at the Old Fort American Post 779 on Nov. 8. Johnston was born and raised in Centre County, and graduated from State College High School and Penn State University, attaining a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1971, and a master’s degree in 1977. Commissioned through the Air Force ROTC program at Penn State in 1971 and after flight training, he became a B-52 bomber pilot, assigned to the Strategic Air Command. He later became a test pilot at the Air Force Test Center in California. Johnston reported to the Pentagon in 1985, and worked in the administration of several highly classified weapons programs, including the U-2 spy plane, the B-2 stealth bomber, and the F-117 and F-22 stealth fighters. He interacted often with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and with congressional hearings regarding weapons issues. Following his military retirement, he joined the Raytheon Company as the manager of Department of Defense Programs at its State College facility. In his address, Johnston noted that Americans remember and appreciate veterans on Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but also need to remember that veterans are defending the country 365 days a year. “The heroism that has been demonstrated time and again by veterans from the American Revolution to the global war on terrorism is sometimes unnoticed by those who enjoy the security their sacrifices have provided,” he said. Johnston praised the veterans who gave their lives in combat. “Our debt to these heroes can never be repaid, but our gratitude and respect must last forever,” he said. He noted that families of those lost in combat must endure hardships and having their lives changed forever. He offered glowing remarks concerning the American Legion organization for serving the needs of veterans. “Veterans need each other, but more importantly, our country needs our veterans,” said Johnston. Johnston spoke of the plight of many returning veterans who have difficulty finding jobs and become homeless. “This is hardly the thanks of a grateful nation,” he said. “We can do better … we must do better.” He encouraged employers to hire veterans and all citizens to visit VA hospitals or donate to a veterans program. Following Johnston’s speech, Roger Elling, from the Centre County Veterans Affairs Department gave a presentation regarding prisoners of war and those missing in action. A small table was set in the front of the dining room with single, empty chair represented a missing veteran. A white napkin, a red rose, a yellow ribbon, a candle and a glass were present, symbolizing different aspects of the POW/MIA soldier’s plight. The breakfast was sponsored by State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-171, and was attended by about 130 military veterans residing in his district. The ceremony concluded with Benninghoff presenting each veteran present with a certificate of recognition from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

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