They Also Served

Ed McMahon - Heeeeeeere’s Johnny!

by Scott Baron

Ed McMahonEd McMahonRecognized internationally for his trademark “Heeeeeere’s Johnny”, Ed McMahon’s face and booming laugh are familiar to generations of television viewers, and he has become the standard for a talk-show co-host.

Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. was born in Detroit on March 6, 1923, the only child of a nomadic carnival worker who traveled constantly seeking financial success. As a result, McMahon was raised, to a large extent, by his grandmother, Katie Fitzgerald McMahon, a cousin of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, mother of John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

With the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, McMahon hoped to become a Marine fighter pilot, but two years of college were required to enter the Navy’s V-5 pilot training program. Different accounts have McMahon finishing two years at Boston College or dropping out once the two year requirement was lifted, but by either account, McMahon entered the Navy’s V-5 program as an aviation cadet on Feb. 9, 1943. He was selected as cadet regimental commander, perhaps because his booming voice created a “command presence.”

His first classes were in a civilian run program in Texarkana, TX where he learned to fly a Piper Cub airplane. These were followed by further training in Denton, Texas, and a three-month pre-flight school at the University of Georgia-Athens. After primary flight training at Dallas, McMahon was sent to the Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida for intermediate and advanced training, where he graduated, earning his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on April 4, 1944.

His first active duty station was at Lee Field at Green Cove Springs, Fla., where he was assigned to the Corsair Operational Training Unit learning to fly the gull-winged F4U Corsair fighter. Because McMahon was so proficient at taking off and landing on aircraft carriers, he was kept on as an instructor pilot, despite his desire to get into combat.

In August 1945, McMahon finally was ordered to the West Coast assigned to a Marine carrier unit, but the dropping of the atomic bombs resulted in a change of orders, and he was sent instead to a Marine Air Group as part of Marine Fighter Squadron 911 at the Marine auxiliary airfield at Kingston, N.C. McMahon instructed and flight-tested Corsairs and F7F Wildcats until his discharge from active duty in February 1946. He elected to remain in the reserves.

Recalled to the Marines in July 1951 during the Korean War, he was first sent to the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, Pa. as a public information officer. After six weeks, he was reassigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing in Korea, assigned to Marine Observation Squadron 6. The unit was the first combat helicopter unit with both observation planes and helicopters flying medical evacuation missions from July 1950-May 1955.

After training at Miami and El Toro, Calif., Capt. McMahon arrived in Korea in February 1953 and was assigned to fly unarmed OY-1 Birddogs on tactical air control and artillery spotting missions. McMahon returned to Philadelphia and television. A producer of next-door neighbor Dick Clark helped him get hired as an announcer in October 1958. The show was called Who Do You Trust with Johnny Carson. The two got along well, and when Carson took over for Jack Paar on the Tonight Show in 1962, he brought McMahon with him, a relationship that was to last for 32 years.

McMahon retired from the Marine Corps Reserves with the rank of Colonel on March 6, 1983, his 60th birthday, after six years of active service and 28 years in the Reserves. He was commissioned a Brigadier General in the California Air National Guard.


Past Articles in This Column