Throwback Thursday – Remembering a Blue Angel: Johnny Magda

This week, we’re telling the heroic tale of a pilot featured at Bowling Green’s Aviation Heritage Park. This is the story of Lieutenant Commander John J. Magda, Jr., a Blue Angel who gave his life at just 33-years-old in combat in the skies above Korea.

A Kentucky native, John Joseph Magda was born in Camp Taylor in 1918, graduating from Louisville’s Okolona High School and attending Western Kentucky Teachers College until 1940. In his college years in Bowling Green, Johnny Magda became a Western football and baseball phenom.

Magda enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940, and flew missions during WWII, including the famous 1942 Battle of Midway in the Pacific. He attacked three Japanese aircraft carriers and his plane ran out of fuel. Forced to flee, he and another pilot spent five days floating on a raft at sea before being rescued. The story of bravery made it back to Bowling Green and was featured in the College Heights Herald newspaper.

By age 23, Magda was a flying Ace, having shot down five Japanese aircraft and destroyed seven more on the ground. After the war ended in 1945, he was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. By 1950, he was commanding the Blue Angels squad. 

The Herald mentioned his Blue Angels team was featured in a December 1949 issue of LIFE Magazine, telling the story of the Blue Angels and giving a background on the pilots. The alum was receiving nationwide fame for his skills and leadership.

During a Korean War mission in March 1951, Magda’s jet was shot and burst into flames as it went down over the sea. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism. 

The Grumman Panther plane on display at Aviation Heritage Park is the type of jet Johnny Magda flew. More of his story can be found here.