President Lyndon B. Johnson was the 36th POTUS. Having already been appointed a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve on June 21, 1940, Johnson, who was still in congress, reported for active duty three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. His orders were to report to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations in Washington, D.C. for instruction and training. Following his training, he asked Undersecretary of the Navy James Forrestal for a combat assignment. He was sent instead to inspect the shipyard facilities in Texas and on the West Coast. In the spring of 1942, President Roosevelt needed his own reports on what conditions were like in the Southwest Pacific. Roosevelt felt that information which flowed up the military chain of command needed to get delivered by a highly trusted political aide. From a suggestion by Forrestal, President Roosevelt assigned Johnson to a three-man survey team of the Southwest Pacific.
Johnson reported to General Douglas MacArthur in Australia. Johnson and two Army officers went to the 22nd Bomb Group base, which was assigned the high risk mission of bombing the Japanese airbase at Lae in New Guinea. A colonel took Johnson’s allocated seat on one bomber, and it was shot down with no survivors. Reports vary on what happened to the B-26 Marauder carrying Johnson. He said that it was also attacked by Japanese fighters but survived, while others, including other members of the flight crew, claim that it turned back because of generator trouble before reaching the objective and before encountering enemy aircraft and never came under fire (Reminds me of a certain news anchor). This is supported by official flight records. Other airplanes that continued to the target did come under fire near the target at about the same time that Johnson’s plane was recorded as having landed back at the original airbase. MacArthur awarded Johnson the Silver Star, the military’s third-highest medal.
Johnson reported to Roosevelt, to the Navy leaders, and to Congress that conditions were deplorable and unacceptable. He argued that the South West Pacific urgently needed a higher priority and a larger share of war supplies. The warplanes sent there, for example, were “far inferior” to Japanese planes, and morale was bad. He told Forrestal that the Pacific Fleet had a “critical” need for 6,800 additional experienced men. Johnson prepared a twelve-point program to upgrade the effort in the region, stressing “greater cooperation and coordination within the various commands and between the different war theaters.” Congress responded by making Johnson chairman of a high-powered subcommittee of the Naval Affairs Committee, with a mission similar to that of the Truman Committee in the Senate. He probed the peacetime “business as usual” inefficiencies that permeated the naval war and demanded that admirals shape up and get the job done. Johnson went too far when he proposed a bill that would crack down on the draft exemptions of shipyard workers if they were absent from work too often; organized labor blocked the bill and denounced him. Johnson’s biographer, Robert Dallek concludes, “The mission was a temporary exposure to danger calculated to satisfy Johnson’s personal and political wishes, but it also represented a genuine effort on his part, however misplaced, to improve the lot of America’s fighting men.