October 23, 1918: Duluthian Conrad Johnson shot down over France

On this day over the Argonne Forest in France, Duluthian Conrad Johnson was shot down by enemy fire and perished. Johnson, who grew up at 2615 West Third Street, was a Duluth Central graduate who enlisted in the Army when the U.S. entered World War I. After basic training at Fort Snelling, Johnson was trained as a pilot at Princeton University, graduating the program with honors. He was sent to France where he helped build an airstrip known as Issondon Field. By September, 1918, he was flying missions along the Western front, protecting advanced observation planes on reconnaissance missions. After crossing the German lines on October 23 his plane, a 260-horse power Salmson 2A2, was hit by a barrage of enemy antiaircraft artillery and plunged 2,000 feet to the ground. Lieutenant Wildey Mitchell—son of prominent Duluth attorney Oscar Mitchell—reported on Johnson’s death nearly a year later, when he returned from service. Mitchell had served with Johnson in the First Aero Squadron. Mitchell told Johnson’s parents that “Lieutenant Johnson was popular among the men of the squadron. He was an exceptionally good pilot. His work was one of the best in the squadron.” In 1930 Duluth’s first airport was named the Williams-Johnson Municipal Airport for Johnson and Francis Williamson, Jr. a local pioneer of commercial aviation.

A Salmson 2A2 biplane, the same type of plane Duluth’s Conrad Johnson was piloting when he was shot downover France in 1918. (Image: Public Domain)