by Nick Swedberg Daily Southtown CHICAGO-Late Chicago Fire Department Capt. Herbert "Herbie" Johnson was a larger-than-life figure still remembered for his enormous heart — and his many opinions — by the Southwest Side community that he called home.
Johnson's friends and family gathered Sunday outside the U.S. post office in the Mount Greenwood community for a ceremony at which the building was renamed in honor of Johnson, who died in November 2012 at age 54 while battling a fire in a two-story house in Chicago's Englewood community.
"I now look forward to getting my mail every day from Herbie's post office," his wife, Susan Johnson, said Sunday.
Whenever she passes the building in the future, she will tell her grandchildren that it is named in honor of their grandfather, she told attendees at the ceremony.
Susan Johnson also took a moment to recognize the death of Chicago firefighter Daniel Capuano, who died last week after falling down an open and unmarked elevator shaft while fighting a warehouse fire.
Capuano, a 15-year veteran with the Chicago Fire Department, was buried Friday at Holy Sepulchre Catholic Cemetery in Alsip, just a few miles from the post office. Susan Johnson asked those present to keep Capuano's family in their prayers.
Herbie Johnson rose to the rank of captain, served in almost every Chicago neighborhood and trained thousands of recruits at the Robert J. Quinn Fire Academy during his 32 years with the Chicago Fire Department. He volunteered to help with rescue efforts in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and in 2007 received the Illinois Medal of Honor after rescuing several children from a burning apartment.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-3rd, who authored the bill calling for the renaming of the post office, said he was urged to do so by Ald. Matt O'Shea, D-19th. It was signed into law by President Barack Obama about a year ago, Lipinski told the crowd.
A plaque with Herbie Johnson's name on it will have a permanent place inside the post office, 3349 W. 111th St. Although the exterior signage won't change, the post office officially will be known as the Captain Herbert Johnson Memorial Post Office Building.
Johnson died while leading his team in a lifesaving mission into the heat and smoke of a burning building, said O'Shea, who was good friends with Johnson. He said the firefighter was the "heart and soul of the Chicago Fire Department."
"He was a fiercely loyal person who enjoyed setting you straight when he didn't agree with you," O'Shea said. "In my case, that happened somewhat frequently.
"I could count on him for anything, especially a laugh," O'Shea said.
Chicago lost a hero, and the Mount Greenwood community lost "one of our greatest," O'Shea said.
O'Shea told attendees they should thank a police officer, firefighter or paramedic when they see them on the street.
Herbie Johnson almost annually drove the fire truck down Western Avenue for the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade, and also was known to cook for various charity events and offer his time at a camp for young burn victims, according to Lipinski.
"Renaming this post office ensures that Capt. Herbie Johnson, his family, and the sacrifices of all first responders will always be remembered and appreciated, and will hopefully serve as a powerful source of inspiration in the community," Lipinski said.