Mt. Greenwood Post Office Named in Honor of Johnson
Although the occasion was a tribute to a fallen hero, laughter and smiles were abundant—and up above, his loved ones insisted, Chicago Fire Department (CFD) Captain Herbie Johnson was wondering why he deserved to have a post office named in his honor.
Hundreds crowded around the corner of 111th Street and Homan Avenue on Dec. 20 as the Mt. Greenwood station of the U.S. Postal Service was renamed the “Captain Herbert Johnson Memorial Post Office Building,” in honor of the Morgan Park firefighter who died fighting a blaze in November 2012.
Johnson, 54, was known as a fun-loving, humorous man who was “larger than life,” his friends said, and seemingly knew everyone in the neighborhood.
While somber emotions were evident, Johnson’s family kept the mood lighthearted and loving as they gathered to honor the 33-year CFD veteran.
“I now look forward to getting my mail every day from ‘Herbie’s post office’—no bills, though, I told him,” his widow, Susan Johnson, quipped. “And every time I pass this building, I’ll be happy to tell my granddaughter, Peyton, and future grandchildren that this was named after their ‘Cappie,’ who gave his life helping others. We are all so proud of Herbie, and I only wish his parents could have been here today to see this. They would have been so proud, and I’m sure they’re watching from heaven with him now.”
Johnson was honored after U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-3rd) sponsored a bill two years ago proposing the renaming. Lipinski joined Johnson’s family, including his children, Tom, Laurie and Mickey, in unveiling a plaque that reads, “This building is named in honor of Captain Herbert Johnson by an act of Congress, Public Law 113-214, December 16, 2014.”
According to Lipinski, Johnson taught more than 1,000 recruits as an instructor at the Robert J. Quinn Fire Academy, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, he volunteered with the rescue efforts in New York City. In 2007, he received the Illinois Medal of Honor, the state’s highest award for firefighters, for rescuing several children from a burning apartment.
Lipinski praised Johnson’s selflessness and willingness to train new firefighters.
“He was very dedicated to helping people,” Lipinski said, “many of whom he never knew, just as everyone here from the fire department—willing to give everything for those who they didn’t even know, willing to go out there and put their lives on the line every day.”
19th Ward Ald. Matt O’Shea called Johnson a close friend who was always eager to express his opinion; he had an infectious smile, O’Shea said, and Johnson loved his family and friends.
“Herbie Johnson lived his life to the fullest,” O’Shea said. “He cherished his family, inspired his sons, absolutely adored his daughter, and entertained his siblings, nieces and nephews on countless occasions. I consider myself lucky—Herbie was a very good friend of mine. He was a fiercely loyal person who enjoyed setting you straight when he didn’t agree with you.”
CFD Commissioner Jose Santiago recalled meeting Johnson in 1980, and the two became friends working together on the Southwest Side.
Typical of his easygoing nature, Santiago said, Johnson chided Santiago, who was always meticulous in wearing his uniform, for taking his job too seriously.
However, Santiago said Johnson had a serious side and cared about his fellow firefighters.
“He was everywhere. He wasn’t just that fireman when he had to put the uniform on and go to work,” Santiago said. “He remembered everyone—everyone who got hurt, everyone who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Herbie was there.”
Santiago said he was tired after a “tough week” that began with the death of another local firefighter, Dan Capuano, of Mt. Greenwood. Capuano, 43, was acknowledged by several officials at the ceremony, as well as Susan Johnson, who said, “My heart goes out to his family.”
Susan, whose two sons are Marines, with Tom now a police officer, encouraged the public to support first responders and the military. O’Shea said that in the wake of public criticism of the police, residents should rally behind them.
When people see police officers, O’Shea said, they should thank them for their service.
Susan Johnson echoed those sentiments.
“God bless the men and women of the Chicago fire and police departments, and the U.S. military,” Susan said, “who selflessly put their lives on the line for us each and every day.”
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