By Joshua Rhett Miller
Published December 16, 2010
Roger Johnson, 90, hopes his exhibit of World War II memorabilia will inspire students at Utah's Snow College. A $40,000 endowment fund has been created to honor him and his late wife, LaRue. (Snow College)
Roger Johnson wants a new generation to learn from his experience as a pilot in World War II. And now they will, thanks to an exhibit at Snow College in Utah that features the 90-year-old veteran's collection of war memorabilia.
Thousands of visitors to the 4,100- student college 120 miles south of Salt Lake City have caught a glimpse of Johnson's personal relics since the exhibit opened in June. Among the roughly 250 items on display at the school's Social Science building are more than a dozen World War II uniforms, a Distinguished Flying Cross medal, maps, charts and telegrams Johnson collected during his missions over the Himalayas.
"We traveled all over the world and we saved a lot of stuff," Johnson told FoxNews.com from his home in Ephraim, Utah. "I just had it around the house here and it wasn't doing me any good. I want to do some good for people and help people that I'll never know. In this life, we should do things like that."
The exhibit also serves as a way for Johnson to remember his late wife, LaRue, who he said was a "beautiful" Army nurse who immediately caught his eye when he was an Army flight instructor at Richfield, Utah.
"One day this beautiful gal walked out of an apartment door in my neighborhood and I said, 'Boy, I've got to get on the ball here,'" he said. "I fell in love. It was an emotion that completely took me over -- and her, too."Johnson detailed that love affair and his two years of service from 1994 to 1946 for the U.S. Army Air Corps in "Over the Hump: A World War II Pilot's Report," a personal account he hopes will inspire others to serve their country.
Snow College has established a $40,000 Roger and LaRue Johnson Endowment to provide four scholarships in visual arts, math, chemistry and physics. University officials hope that figure will grow, and they plan to expand Johnson's exhibit into a more permanent fixture on campus in Ephraim.
"We have a dream of creating a much larger museum and having this kind of be the seed to start different exhibits," Snow College President Scott Wyatt told FoxNews.com. "This part of the state and the country is very patriotic, so people are interested in this stuff."
Wyatt said Johnson -- "an absolute hero" -- owns a home just off campus and can be spotted on university grounds at least once a week.
"He's got various health challenges, but he gets out all the time," Wyatt said. "We love him, he's a wonderful person."
For Johnson, the exhibit provides a way to share a glimpse into the past, and he hopes it will encourage a new generation to follow in his footsteps.
"When you give something like this, it gives you satisfaction," he said. "I've gone over and seen these young kids looking at it. I just want to help somebody and give that experience to worthy students."