Loved by Everybody, Post Office Renamed for Herbie Johnson
It took an act of Congress, but Herbie Johnson finally got his post office, although his firefighter brother teased that maybe a federal prison would have been more appropriate.
Family members, dignitaries, firefighters, police officers and neighbors gathered for the official renaming of the Mt. Greenwood Post Office the Captain Herbert Johnson Memorial Post Office Building.
The larger-than-life, 32-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department and a lifelong resident of Mt. Greenwood died on Nov. 2, 2012 battling a blaze in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood, his third fire that day.
“You’d think renaming a post office would be easy to do but not in Washington these days,” said Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3), who sponsored the bill that made the name change possible. “There was actually a moratorium put on the renaming of post offices for political reasons but we finally got it done.”
The bill passed through the U.S. House in the summer of 2013, and was signed into law by President Obama in 2014.
“All the stories I’ve heard about Herbie and his dedication to his family and friends after his death in November 2012, and at the urging of Ald. Matt O’Shea and many others, I thought it would be fitting to name the Mt. Greenwood Post Office in his honor.”
The recent loss of Daniel Capuano, another Mt. Greenwood firefighter who died last week fighting a blaze at a South Side warehouse where illegal construction work was said to be taking place, also weighed heavily at the gathering.
“It reminds us again of what firefighters and their families do for all of us,” Lipinski said. Johnson, who was 54 when he died, learned public service from his family. Three of his brothers are Chicago police officers, a sister is a retired Chicago police officer, and another brother is a Chicago firefighter.
The fallen firefighter’s oldest son, Thomas, is a Chicago police officer; his youngest boy, Michael, is currently serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. Johnson also left his wife of 28 years, Susan, and a daughter, Laurie, when he was killed in the line of duty.
Johnson joined the fire department in 1980 and served in almost every Chicago neighborhood. He rose through the fire department ranks and taught over 1,000 recruits at the Robert J. Quinn Fire Academy. After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, he volunteered with the rescue efforts in New York City.
Herbie, as he was known to all he encountered -- family, friends, colleagues -- was well liked throughout Chicago’s Southwest Side. He had an infectious smile, quick wit and a massive heart.
Almost every year he drove the fire truck down Western Avenue for the South Side Irish Parade and was known to cook for various charity events. He also offered his time at a camp for young burn victims.
As gregarious as he was, Johnson was also self-effacing and humble. When he was awarded the Illinois Medal of Honor in 2007 for saving several children from a burning apartment, he only wanted his immediate family members at the ceremony.
“If you told me five years ago this post office would be named after Herbie Johnson I would have called you crazy,” O’Shea (19th) told the crowd. “Honestly, how much I wish he was here today. I wish we didn’t have to be here today, but the sad truth is that on Nov. 2, 2012 our great city lost a hero. The Johnsons lost a husband, father, brother, uncle, and our neighborhood lost one of our greats.”
O’Shea also “moved off script” addressing the backlash against the Chicago police stemming from the release of the Laquan McDonald video, in which a city police officer was captured on a dashboard camera shooting the youth 16 times.
“For the past several weeks and certainly in the last week as a city we’ve seen a lot of ugliness, but I think it’s time that we turn this around and it needs to start with elected officials,” the alderman said. “Our first responders, our policemen and firemen and paramedics are the very backbone of our communities. They’re the ones that keep us safe. I ask all of us here today, if you see a cop or fireman or paramedic on the street, stop and thank them for all they do. Thank them for people like Herbie Johnson and Dan Capuano.”
Susan Johnson, the firefighter’s widow, thanked the neighborhood for their love and support over the past three years. She said she looked forward to getting her mail every day from “Herbie’s post office.”
“I’ll be able to tell my granddaughter, Peyton, and future grandchildren that this was named after their Cappy who gave his life helping others,” she said. “My heart [also] goes out to Julie Capuano and her family who are mourning the loss of Dan, another Chicago hero. God bless the men and women of the Chicago fire and police departments and military who selflessly put their lives on the line for us everyday.”
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