Hood County News On-Line Edition – December 22, 1999

Patriot missile developer remembered

A Granbury native who helped develop a missile system that helped win the Persian Gulf War died last week.

Patriot missile engineer Henry Clay Johnson Jr., 81, died Tuesday, Dec. 14 in Orlando, Fla., reported his sister, Granbury resident Flora McCarty.

Johnson died of an infection and pneumonia brought on by a minor surgery, said McCarty.

Johnson was the subject of a February 1991 feature in the Hood County News detailing his work as program director in the development of the Patriot ground-to-air missile. The missile was used to shoot down Iraqi SCUD missiles fired against Saudi Arabia and Israel during the Persian Gulf War.

“We tested it and tested it and tested it and tested it,” Johnson recalled in 1991 of his sojourn with the Patriot program. “I had the highest confidence in it.”

When Johnson was born in 1918, Granbury was a sleepy little town on the Brazos River, about as far away from planes and missiles as one could possibly get. However, at an early age, Johnson showed a passion for building things, especially airplanes and boats, recalled McCarty.

During his youth, Johnson won fifth place in a national model airplane competition. The winning entry was a “little crash-proof airplane,” said Johnson. “Well, it almost was,” he joked.

Johnson graduated from Granbury in 1937. He left Granbury at age 20 to obtain an engineering degree at the University of Texas in Austin.

After graduating, Johnson went to work for the Curtiss-Wright airplane company in St. Louis, Mo. During World War II, he served in the Navy in an aircraft transport squadron in Hawaii. After the war, Johnson worked at Convair in Fort Worth, now Lockheed Martin. Johnson also went on to obtain a master’s degree in aeronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1951, Johnson went to work for Glen L. Martin aerospace company in Baltimore. He later transferred with Martin to Florida, where he participated in the development of the LaCrosse missile system, which was used by NATO forces in Europe. He also worked on development of the Pershing surface-to-surface missile.

In 1965, Johnson and his employer, now called Martin Marietta, began working with the Raytheon Company on the SAM-D surface-to-air missile. The SAM-D was designed to intercept high-performance Soviet aircraft, Johnson said. The SAM-D was later renamed the Patriot missile, he stated.

From 1972-75, Johnson was Martin Marietta’s program director for its part of the Patriot project.

Johnson retired in 1983 after a stint in Japan, where he worked on development there of the Patriot missile.

“It’s been a really good missile,” Johnson said. “A highly reliable missile. I was real happy I was able to work on it,” he stated in 1991. “It’s good to have something in retirement to show your life’s work wasn’t entirely wasted.”

Johnson had recently lost his wife Evelyn. Shortly before his death, Johnson underwent minor surgery to remove an abscess near his spine, stated McCarty. He got a “dreadful infection” and later passed away after developing pneumonia, she reported.

Johnson is buried in Orlando.