One of the first things visitors to the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame will see when they enter the Hall at Lambeau Field in the coming weeks is a new display in the lobby featuring Howard "Smiley" Johnson, the only Green Bay Packer to give his life in service of the United States of America.
Much like the familiar story of the late Pat Tillman of the Arizona Cardinals, Johnson gave up his football career after two seasons as a guard/linebacker with the Packers in 1940-41 and joined the armed forces while his country was at war.
Johnson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and fought in World War II, losing his life on Iwo Jima in 1944. He was awarded the Silver Star for "conspicuous gallantry" during the Saipan operation and was posthumously awarded a Gold Star for actions during the Iwo Jima campaign.
The display case, which was recently arranged by the Hall of Fame's vice president of sales & marketing Denny Tattum, contains artifacts and photos from Johnson's seasons in Green Bay.
Tattum credits another Hall of Fame enshrinee with suggesting the tribute display, former general manager Ron Wolf.
"Ron Wolf - who is an avid historian - brought it to Bob Harlan's attention that we had a Packer player in 1940 and 1941 who joined the Marine Corps and was in fact the only Green Bay Packer to give his life serving for his country," Tattum said.
"Ron expressed the desire and thought it would be appropriate for us to have some type of memorial in the Hall of Fame that would do justice and would honor Smiley and his contributions."
All of the elements that are on display in the case were already on hand in the extensive archives of the Hall of Fame.
"We were fortunate enough that Tom Murphy, our archivist, keeps a wonderful record of everything that we have so that everything is hands-on and available to us," said Tattum. "We have a nice display of artifacts that were part of that tenure that Smiley was a Packer. We feel that that display depicts that particular period of time."
Tattum said that the display will likely be available for viewing through the Memorial Day weekend, and could potentially become a permanent part of the Hall of Fame's tremendously thorough representation of Packers history.
Johnson is also honored at his alma mater, the University of Georgia, as one of many former UGA student-athletes recognized on their War Memorial monument. In addition, the Peach Bowl, a college bowl game held annually in Atlanta, also honors Johnson by presenting the "Smiley Johnson Award" to the game's outstanding lineman.