<i>Catch 22</i> Figure Remembered

Hannah with Mickey Mantle, 1985 F. Carter Smith

A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday for the man who was an inspiration for the protagonist of Joseph Heller's dark World War II satire novel Catch-22.

Francis Yohannan, 79, died last week of complications from a stroke that had left him in a coma. Wednesday's service will take place at Gonzaga University.

Yohannan's decorations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star, and Air Medal. A native of Philadelphia, he became friends with Heller when both were bombardiers in the 57th Bomb Wing, stationed on Corsica in 1944. During that period, Yohannan flew 66 missions in B-25s.

The title of Heller's novel, published in 1961, referred to the near-impossibility of avoiding frightful bombing runs through enemy anti-aircraft fire. A flier could be grounded by being declared insane, but being afraid of such danger was considered virtual proof of sanity.

In an interview for USA Today in February 1998, Heller said it was from Yohannan "that I ... derived the unconventional name for the heretical Yossarian," Heller said.

Yohannan's sense of humor also was evident in the novel, said his son, Lance Yohannan of Paradise, Mont.

"Dad could make me laugh, and he could push my buttons. My blood pressure would go up, and my father would just smile and stay calm as can be," he said.

Many others who served with Heller were upset about the novel, but to Yohannan "it was all tongue-in-cheek," his son said.

Even so, he turned aside calls from reporters who asked if he was the real-life Yossarian.

"He was a very humble man," Lance Yohannan said. "He would never bring up Catch-22 by himself or talk much about the war."

Yohannan racked up more than 9,000 air hours in B-25s, B-36s during the 1950s, B-52 bombers carrying hydrogen bombs during the 1950s and '60s, including the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and Phantom fighters during the Vietnam War.

He retired from the Air Force in 1974 as a lieutenant colonel.

Other survivors include a son, Frank, of Pebble Beach, Calif., a daughter, Sandra, of Spokane, and his second wife, Kathleen Hansen, whom in married in 1998. He was married for 48 years to his first wife, Rosemary, who died in 1995.

Heller died in 1999.


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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