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Home : News : News
NEWS | June 19, 2019

The story of Mom & Pop: Air Force pioneers

By By Airman 1st Class Shelby Pruitt 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

Three wars. World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. For some, these conflicts that shook the world may be hard to imagine, but for 92-year-old Gwyneth Johnson, all three were nothing less than reality.

It was 1943, in the midst of World War II coming to a close, 17-year-old bright-eyed, curly-haired Gwyneth Baker took a break from high school to serve her country and assist the war effort at Hill Field, Utah.

“I worked in Pratt and Whitney engine repair and disassembly where I took large reciprocal engines apart to clean them,” she said.

After a few years, Gwyneth exchanged her “Rosie the Riveter” persona for a school uniform and went back to finish high school.

Upon graduation, Gwyneth jumped right back in at Hill Field in sub assembly, then assembly of the large engines commonly used in heavy bombers, such as the B-24 and B-17.

During her time at Hill Field, she shifted her duties to flight clothing where she sewed, cleaned and organized military uniforms. Little did she know that while there, she’d meet a handsome young Airman who she would later marry.

“I was drying my clothes and I got my shirt stuck in the wringer. I couldn’t get it out. Then the most beautiful woman I ever saw came over to help me get it out,” remembered Robert Lee Johnson, a retired United States Air Force chief master sergeant and husband to Gwyneth.

Before their lives collided, Robert’s story started in a small town in Nebraska. He enlisted March 6, 1953.

Robert joined the munitions maintenance career field, and stayed in munitions his entire Air Force career.

“I loved it,” he said. “I enjoyed it because I like to work and in munitions during that time, there was a lot of work.”

For the remainder of Robert’s time in service, the pair traveled to more than 10 military installations in different countries all over the world ,where they were dedicated to serving the military and their nation during the Vietnam War.

Although Robert remained in the same career field, Gwyneth had many roles in the war effort. While stationed in California, she returned to her trade in engine repair, this time for the Navy’s 2B-4Y. After that, she tried her hand in parachute manufacturing for a few years.

“What I did during the war was very important. It was a different world entirely back then. People were working together. It was important to everyone,” she said.

Meanwhile, in 1970, Robert was nominated for Outstanding Airman of the Year in his unit.

Toward the end of his career, Robert was stationed at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. During their time there, Gwyneth joined the Aero Club on Randolph Field where she obtained her private pilot license at the age of 65. The club offered various small planes to “check-out” and take for trips. The couple took advantage of this opportunity and flew to Kansas and back.

After a fulfilling 26 years climbing the enlisted ranks of the Air Force, Robert retired out of Kelly Air Force Base, April 1, 1979. He and Gwyneth decided to stay in Universal City, Texas, where their two daughters attended high school.

Here, they enjoy the numerous veteran benefits and resources provided for them, including the base exchanges and top-of-the-line medical facilities and pharmacies. 

After the death of their daughter and moving of the other, the couple was “adopted” by another Air Force family in Universal City.

To retired Master Sgt. Gary Clark and his wife, Dang, Robert and Gwyneth are “Mom and Pop.”

”These people are a blessing to us,” Gwyneth said. “They’re what keeps us going.”

Gary retired in 1986 as an Air Force recruiter. Unlike Robert, during his career he wore many hats. Some included an aircraft mechanic, an aircraft engine mechanic and a disaster preparedness technician, in addition to serving as a recruiter.

One thing the two couples do share is the love for the Air Force.

“You’re going to have your ups and downs, but it’s worth staying in,” Gary advised. “It’s just like any job; you have to get up in the morning and go to work, but the Air Force takes good care of you. I would not have the things I have today if I didn’t join.”

Robert agreed. “If you go in, work at it and stay in. It’s a good life. Be proud to serve.”

For these two couples, having an Air Force family is nothing but true. With the history “Mom and Pop” were a huge part of, and the many generations of service, the four take pride in their service and encourage any young person to take the step in their life.