Howard "Smiley" Johnson was born in 1916 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and orphaned when his father died when he was 10. The orphanage was in New Providence, Tennessee.
Smiley was a star football player for the University of Georgia in the late 1930s and the SEC Conference Linebacker award is named after him (it is still given out annually).
Johnson was an undrafted free agent walk-on with the Green Bay Packers in 1940, where he played linebacker and guard. He played in 11 games in 1940 and 11 games in 1941, though I am working with the Packers organization to verify whether he was in 11 or 12 games that year as they tied with the Chicago Bears and had a playoff game that year. Johnson might have left the team by that point.
In January 1942, he joined the Marine Corps and was sent to Quantico, Va., for his commissioning training. I don't have the exact date yet, but he was sent to I Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines and served in all four engagements. He was killed in action on Feb. 19, 1945 during the Iwo Jima invasion.
Johnson was one of only 23 NFL men to die in combat in World War II. 21 were active or former players, an ex-head coach, and a team executive. There were approximately 650 active or former players who served during World War II, and adding those who played in the NFL after their service expired increases the ranks to 995 NFL people having service. Of the 32 Green Bay Packers who served in World War II, Johnson was the only one to lose his life.
Not only will this story be submitted to the Packers (they have already asked me to write this), but it will also be submitted to Leatherneck Magazine, Marine Corps Times, U.S. Marine Corps public affairs, and WWII publications. I'm hoping that this will be a wide-spread story that will give Lieutenant Johnson and his 4th Division Marines the long overdue recognition that they earned on the battlefield. If I get enough resources from the different aspects of Johnson's life, I may turn this into a full-length book.
Just to let you know, I'm currently a Tech. Sgt. with the U.S. Air Force Reserve in Minneapolis and serve in public affairs. I've received numerous awards from Air Force Reserve Command for my writing. Furthermore, I'm a freelance writer for Sportspage Magazine, a Connecticut-based online sports publication, and the author of "Muskets and Memories: A modern man's journey through the Civil War" - a yet-to-be-released book that covers my Civil War reenacting experiences. I deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq in 2003.
I'll definitely make sure that you are emailed links to stories once they get published.
Thanks again for your help and support.