Major Thomas "Skeeter" Johnson, Jr.
Head, History Department
American History
(1953 - 1976)

Pearl Harbor

Put yourself in Skeeterís U.S. History class: a sultry May morning, your stomach is growling, you're counting the minutes Ďtil second mess. On Skeeterís desk, the Andrews Sisters are playing on a scratchy phonograph. Major Johnson is setting the mood, and youíre there... transported into history only the way Major Johnson could do it: Hawaii, Oahu... itís a sleepy Sunday Morning in December 1941... the Honolulu radio stations are playing.

Skeeterís back is turned, heís at the blackboard drawing a detailed topographical representation of Oahu. The Major is describing the courses flown by American reconnaissance planes, how they missed the Japanese carriers. With growing intensity, Major Johnson describes the massing of the Japanese planes into two huge waves: the first splits west and flies through Kaholi-kaholi pass and down onto the sleeping American fleet. The second turns east toward Kaneoe Bay and Hickham Field.

While heís doing this, Cadet Dean Cummins has put on a pair of sunglasses, wrapped a piece of toilet paper around his neck like a silk scarf and begins to pantomime the pilot in the lead airplane... stick, rudder, the whole thing.

Oblivious at the blackboard, Skeeter keeps narrating. Cummins, maintaining radio silence, hand signals his squadron mates and goes into a power dive... Now Deanís carried away--heís making airplane noises and makes AAGAGAGAGAGAGAGAGAGAG machine-gun noises as he strafes the USS Arizona... Cummins pulls up, puts the stick over and cranks around for another pass down battleship row...

The class is cracking up... weíre all dying. Other pilots are now joining the attack. Cummins hits his bomb release and deploys a 500 pounder... it falls with a piercing whistle...

Just then Skeeter turns around from the board, draws his squirt gun and puts three quick bursts into Dean Cumminís Zero. Without batting an eye, Skeeter says: "Gentlemen, Mr. Cummins has been shot down."

Dean climbs up onto his desk, pantomimes bailing out of his stricken Zero and yells, "HIT THE SILK!!!!" Just then... the bell rings and Cummins runs out, toilet paper streaming behind him.

Recollections of Chuck Pfarrer, SMA '75

Voices in Memory

It was with sadness that I read of the passing of Major "Skeeter" Johnson. I was honored to count myself among his students in both my junior and senior years at SMA. Major Johnson made history come alive through his style of presenting it as a story worth listening to.

I have met such storytellers in my lifetime, including an 80-year-old cowboy with his tales of the trail. Skeeter had the patience of a saint with the likes of us, and endured a lot of high spirits in class on the slim chance that some of what he was telling us might actually get through.

So tonight I raise a toast to Major "Skeeter" Johnson. May you be forever in the august company of those who made the history you so loved, and may you always know where your hat-shield is...(inside joke from the class of '75).

With all due Respect,

Ed Newbegin, SMA '75

Dear Fellow Classmates,

I majored in history and political science, due in large part to Major Johnson's mentoring, so tonight I raise a toast to Major "Skeeter" Johnson. May you be forever in the august company of those who made the history you so loved.

Here, here!

Mike Byington, SMA '61

I have said it before, and I will say it again, "Skeeter, the man, the myth, the legend, Godspeed my dear friend."

If there is any truth to the movies...can we all form up on the asphalt for one last meeting, from all classes, just to hear the roll call? What a scene... no beat squad or general announcements, maybe a couple of kegs, some false I.D.s, and some loose women from Mary Baldwin and Stuart Hall. Hell, maybe a parade is in order. Will the last cadet please bring the flag?

Jim Dunn, SMA 75'


With much sadness I read of Major Skeeter Johnsonís passing. He was a terrific guy, and I always suspected Ed Newbegin (Ď75) as the perpetrator who stole Skeeterís hat shield (I was Officer of the Day when it happened).

Major Johnson made history interesting to a gang of apes. He was truly one in a million; but Iíve never stopped wondering why Skeeter would have a tumbler full of transparent liquid on his desk, but still spend every class break at the water fountain in the corner of South Barracks.

SMA was the kind of place you could hate every day, and miss for the rest of your life. Skeeter was that rare kind of teacher who made our lives better.

Iíll raise a transparent drink to Skeeter this evening--and Iíll see you old boys at the water fountain in the morning.

Cadet Dunn, you can count me in on your formation.

Major Johnson, long may you run.

Chuck Pfarrer, SMA Ď75.

We have lost a great one. He truly was a wonderful teacher, and I thought of him often during my tenure as a high school teacher in the early '70s. I am glad that I had a chance to visit with him during the class of '64 reunion.

Yes, I taught American History.

George F. Dunigan, SMA '64

Fellow Cadets,

I was saddened today with the news of Major Johnson's death.

After graduating from SMA in 1975, I returned to Staunton in 1978 to start a music business. I became a member and lodge organist at the Elks Lodge where Major Johnson had belonged for many years. He was then living north of Harrisonburg, but rode a bus every Friday night to Staunton. He would arrive in Staunton at 6:30 and could be found at the Elks Lodge bar by 6:35. I started playing the organ around 9 p.m., and by then, he was usually in a pretty good mood. I would play until 1 a.m., and Major Johnson was always the last one there...requesting just one more Glenn Miller or Tommy Dorsey tune. We became good friends.

Along with Major Thomas and Major Kegley, Major Johnson had the ability to create curiosity and intrigue where once there was none. That's what great teaching is all about. With memories of his record player emitting sounds of the '30s, and a half-full glass sitting on the edge of his desk, he did something that few of my SMA acquaintances have ever done...he brought both a tear to my eye and a smile to my face today upon reading of his death.

Bravo Major gave us a unique perspective of history, many interesting insights, and provided a much-needed escape from the emotionless routine and dreary reality that filled most of the days at SMA. With your gentle manner and repose, you not only taught us history, you became an important part of our individual history!

Thanks for the smiles...then and now!

W. Scott Groseclose, SMA '75

I rather gather by the tone and amount of reaction to the death of Skeeter Johnson that we alumni have lost a great friend, though I personally never had the privilege of knowing this gentleman.

I guess every generation of alumni had their favorite heros among the faculty and military officers. We had our beloved "Col. Joe" (every kid's Dad away from home!) and our Sgt. Lou Onesty (every cadet's "coach" and big brother) and you just can't help but get a lump in your throat and a bit misty-eyed when you recall them, even 50 years later.

But then, wasn't that one of the real beauties of SMA, one of the best values to come out of all of it? That we got to know men like that who could win so much admiration by example, be so close and yet maintain discipline and interest in learning, and enjoyment of the subject, all the while being your friend, mentor, hero and all of those things outside the classroom.

Rest in Peace, Skeeter. We have all lost by your passing. You, and legions of fine and rare teachers who came before you on The Hill have contributed much to your nation and her sons.

John Deal, SMA '49

The 1963 History Department

Capt. Wease - Lt. Moss - Maj. Johnson - Lt. Carletti - Maj. Pandak - Capt. Keister