|Cassette recorded oral history interview with Allan George W. Johnson, United States Army. Allan Johnson was admitted to West Point in 1937 and graduated in 1941. He was assigned to Battery A of the 150th Field Artillery, 38th Division. He arrived at Buna, New Guinea in 1943. He landed in Luzon and participated in offensive operations up the Bataan Peninsula (including the battle of Zig Zag Pass), the assault on Corregidor in 1945. He had attained the rank of major when the war ended, and shortly thereafter was transferred to Korea. Johnson was was assigned to duty at the Pentagon and in South Korea, taught as a professor at Auburn University in Alabama, and finally, was assigned to Germany in the mid-1960s. He retired as a full Colonel in 1968 after serving 31 years in the Army.
Allan Johnson Interview
27 April 2004
Conducted by Bradley Larson
(B: identifies the interviewer, Mr. Larson; G: identifies the subject, Mr. Johnson. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear).
B: Today is April 27, 2004 and I am Brad Larson talking. And I'm sitting in George Johnson's apartment. And George, if you're ready to go we'll start.
B: And you can just give me your full name and your date of birth.
G: Allen George Woodrow Johnson. Date of birth, first of January 1917.
B: Well George, you were born and raised in Minnesota and maybe you could tell me a little bit, you were a West Point graduate. How did you ever get interested in the military and what led you to West Point?
G: The answer to that is this: When I was six years old my father bought a store up in [Onamia] Minnesota. That's north central Minnesota near [Mille Lacs] Lake. And one of my classmates had a brother who came home from West Point during his yearling furlough. And Dan told me all about his brother. He was so proud of his brother and the rugged life that they lived there, and the wonderful uniforms that they wore. And it just intrigued me. And so here I was 12 years old and I went to the library, this little school library and found a couple of books about West Point and I read them and I said, that's for me. And I had that goal all the time.
And then as I finished high school, I started in the University of Minnesota and I took ROTC. And I just really loved everything about the military. And at the end of three years, I was an offered an appointment to West Point. And I took it immediately and let the three years at Minnesota go and entered there. I really enjoyed my four years at West Point. They were rugged, Spartan living. But it fit me fine because I grew up in a very friendly family but rules were rules. You came home, meals exactly on time and you behaved. But I was very happy. So West Point was not really awfully difficult for me. And when I graduated, I chose the field artillery.
B: How did you choose the field artillery?
G: I chose the field artillery because when I was there from 1937 to '41 we had four years of equitation. And I found that I liked riding horses and jumping horses. And the field artillery at that time was horse drawn. They hadn't really gotten into motorized yet. And so I chose the field artillery thinking that I would have good, wonderful tailor-made boots and britches. Which I did buy actually, thinking I'd play polo and just enjoy this wonderful glamorous life.
As it developed, I joined the 2nd Infantry Division in Fort Sam Houston and they were in the process of turning in the horses and getting all mechanized and truck-drawn artillery. So in actual combat I didn't get into the horse-drawn part of it. That was passe at that time.
B: Big disappointment no doubt.
G: Well, yes. Yes it was.
B: You know, you joined or you entered West Point in 1937. Thinking back now, you're a young man, what was the mood of the country then, especially as it might relate toward events that were happening overseas? Do you recall any thought or discussion. Particularly what did you think as a young man?
G: Yes, I thought as a young man that war is something that might occur way over in Europe but not here. Generally the people were not worried about war because approximately 1940, the House of Representatives voted to install, initiate the draft. This passed, if my history recollection is right, passed by one vote. So you see the mood of the country at that time was isolationist. We were not worried. We didn't want to get involved and we weren't really interested. But then the draft occurred and was passed. And they initiated the draft and they federalized many of the National Guard divisions.
And of course the whole mood changed after Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The mood of the country changed. Everybody got behind the army. Everybody was in favor of going to war. There was just no problem whatsoever. And the morale of the people was good during World War II, during the early stages. I didn't go overseas until 1943. But I recall that everybody was enthusiastic and there was gasoline rationing. No problem whatsoever.
B: You mentioned Europe. That people said that we're not going to get involved in Europe. But did people have any thoughts, either cadets or within your own circle of friends for what was happening in the other direction? Toward Asia?
G: No, they didn't. They didn't really think too much of that. And even the first class year, the last year at West Point, studying the current events and so on. It just didn't occur to me that ah, that we would ever be in war. And one of the instructors that I had at the artillery school, right after graduating from West Point, he said, "Gentlemen, we are probably going to be at war in six months." And I remember thinking at the time, I said, "I don't believe that. Let's get on with it." And he was so right. But, so we were isolationist. But everything changed after Pearl Harbor.
B: What was your personal reaction on that day? Do you recall when you heard about the Japanese that had this devastatingly sneak attack on our fleet, what was your personal reaction to that?
G: My personal reaction was, yes, my whole life is going to change now. We're at war. And I commanded a platoon of artillery at that time. Just a lieutenant. But I said, "This is it." And getting ready to, and well, I might mention this. That about the first of December, I went in to my battalion commander and asked him for permission to get married. This was the custom in those days. I wanted a couple weeks of leave. "Yes," he said, "Alright, yes I think that's right. Okay. You have my permission." And so arrangements were made for me to leave a few days later and go on up to Wisconsin, Oshkosh where we'd be married. Then Pearl Harbor occurred. Everything changed. And the whole wedding plans were changed and I persuaded her to come down to Fort Sam Houston, Texas by train and we would be married there, which we were. We were married there.
B: Let's talk about your wife for a minute if that would be all right.
B: You told me a couple of days ago that you met her in Washington, D.C. How did that all happen? How did an Oshkosh girl end up in Washington?
G: What happened there was that she was attending the Fairmont Junior College at that time in Washington, D.C. and I was in the particular battalion that was selected to march in the January inauguration parade for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And so I did. I went down of course and marched in the parade.
And after the parade one of my classmates said, "Listen, I'd like you to come with me to this dinner dance. And the hostess said that I should bring one of my classmates." And Sam McGruder talked me into it and I said, "Aw, I don't want to go." But he said, "Yes, you must go." Okay.
So I went to the dinner dance and I met Ruth and it was a case of love at first sight.
B: What was Ruth's last name?
G: Keese. K-E-E-S-E. He father was the engineering vice president with Rockwell Standard at that time. And he had a house on Jackson Drive, it was called at that time.
And so when war occurred, Ruth went back to stay with him for the duration. And in the meantime, we had a little baby too. A daughter born. So I didn't see much of my daughter.
B: Yeah, that's a big difference between then and now, isn't it?
G: Yes. It is.
B: As a young lieutenant, fresh out of West Point, what would be some of your typical duties in an artillery unit? Tell me some of the things that you did down in Texas. A typical training day and some of the things, your responsibilities.
G: As a lieutenant commanding a platoon, I had some wonderful sergeants who really handled the men themselves. My job was to train them and to be with them during a training period. And we would go out for service practice, out to the range and fire the weapons. And come back and we'd go over the procedures, over and over. And then at the end of the day there would be maintenance. And as a lieutenant I didn't really have to do too much on the maintenance because the sergeants took care of that. They supervised the cleaning. Every truck had to be cleaned every day and every weapon had to be cleaned. And to rather extremes, really. But that was the custom then. And Saturdays there'd be an inspection. And things had to be exactly perfect. They'd even clean the motors on these trucks to ready for inspection.
B: Someone once told me that sergeants really run the Army. Would you say that's an accurate statement?
G: That's not too far from being really accurate. Yes, they do. Good sergeants are just wonderful.
B: What kind of weapons were in your platoon? What kind of artillery pieces did you…?
G: Well, in this case I had the 105-millimeter weapon. It's about a 3-inch shell. And at that time there were four guns in a platoon. And then of course we also had the small arms too. The rifles. And we'd go out to the firing range and fire those.
And then there were other duties too. For example once a month or so it was my job to give a lecture to the entire platoon about venereal disease. And being healthy and clean and so on and so forth. But as you say, the sergeants were a great help. And if there were a discipline problem, the sergeant would take care of it.
B: Was that very common that there would be a discipline problem?
G: No, it really wasn't but I would guess that the sergeants at times would take a recalcitrant individual behind the woodshed and take care of him.
B: Give him a lesson or two?
G: There were very few problems. On payday of course, the lieutenant had other jobs. He might be the pay officer. He had to pay in cash every one of the enlisted men.
B: What was an officer's pay at that time?
G: The officer's pay was $125.00 a month. And when I was first married we lived at Fort Sam Houston. She came down to Fort Sam Houston. We were married. And I was offered quarters on the post, being a regular Army officer. But I had no furniture. We had no furniture and there was none furnished so I accepted the housing allowance. The housing allowance was $40.00 a month. And the best apartment we could find was $60.00 a month. So right away we didn't have too much money left over.
But for the few months that we were there before I had to, I sent her back, we just loved Fort Sam Houston and another lieutenant and I, he and his wife, the four of us would go out dancing. And buy a bottle of rum and have rum and coke or something. I didn't drink very much. I never drank at West Point at all of course, since it was absolutely forbidden. So we had just a wonderful time.
The other lieutenant, then I'll tell you, at the end of a few months they decided that they would take the new West Point graduates and spread em around the Army among the National Guard divisions. And I was sent to the 38th Division. From the 2nd to the 38th. My good friend Ken, he stayed with the 2nd Division because he was a reserve officer. And he went over, he went over to Europe with the 2nd Infantry division and also artillery lieutenants have a high fatality rate. Although he wasn't killed, he lost an eye and he was badly wounded. And I think now, I could have been the one to stay with that division, go to Europe and I might have done that.
But I went to the 38th Infantry Division and became an aide to the general for a short time. Then I got command of a battery. And I commanded a battery of artillery all through World War II.
B: Where was the 38th Division located?
G: Well, they were located at Camp Caravel, Florida. And they were undergoing amphibious training. And it was really quite a miserable place. And I was without my family and all I could do was wait to go overseas. And we left, the 38th Division went directly to New Guinea.
B: When did you leave?
G: In December 1943. And we were there for three years. Thirty months really.
B: What was your reaction on getting orders that your division was heading overseas? Do you recall what you thought or the circumstances of that day when you got your orders that meant you were going to join a combat unit over in the Pacific?
G: I thought this was just part of the war. And my wife, and that time the baby was born, they were very comfortably taken care of back in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. And I can go ahead and fight the war and stay with the outfit. And so we did.
We got aboard ship and went through the Panama Canal. Went to Hawaii for some jungle training and then we again got on troop ships and went all the way to New Guinea. And I spent a lot of time aboard troop ships in World War II. And one day I figured it out and I had spent a total of 11 weeks aboard troop ships. Firs going through the Panama to Hawaii, then to New Guinea. From New Guinea to Luzon and the Philippines. And then coming back for rest and recuperation at the end of World War II.
And I might, this is somewhat of a digression but I noted that some of the units in Iraq have been extended three months. Well that rang a bell with me quickly because at the end of World War II, the reserve officers and National Guard officers went home if they had served two years. Being a regular officer, that rule didn't apply. So I had to stay there and join another infantry division. And then at the end of thirty months I was needed so they extended me for three months.
Okay, I'm going to fast forward just for a minute. In 1960 I went back over to Korea to command an artillery battalion. And at the end of my 13 months they were short of Lt. Colonels and I was extended again for three months. So twice I… so that extension was really not to, it rang a bell quickly.
The one in Korea was really tough because I had a three-year-old son at that time and my girls were teen-agers. And it was really tough to accept that three months. But I had no choice. However, as my mother used to say, "Everything is going to turn out for the best." Well it did. Because at the end of that three months, the colonel's division, and I was then recommended for full colonel. They signed me as a commandant of cadets at Auburn University. The best assignment in the country. But had I not been extended, I would not have gotten that assignment because the timing was such, they need an artillery colonel, somebody with a masters degree. And I fit the bill.
B: Your mother's … Tell me what it was like aboard a troop ship?
G: Well as a commander, a unit commander, not overall commander, and you had to make sure that the troops got exercise every day. And that was about the story. And make sure that they were reasonably comfortable.
B: What were the conditions like aboard those ships?
G: It was very crowded. It was especially for the enlisted men. And they slept in hammocks piled up in several layers high. And it was crowded but somehow or another I had no problem with morale. They kept busy and if they wanted to play poker, okay. Fine. Whatever they wanted to do. With some exercise every day. Calisthenics.
B: When you landed in New Guinea, whereabouts did you land and what was the progression at that point?
G: Okay. We landed at a place called Buna. Now Buna had already been taken by a previous, the Marines and the 32nd Infantry Division, I think. So it was captured. And we landed there and continued on our training. And again, we trained in the morning, service practice it's called. Actual shooting. Actual weapons. Then in the afternoon it would be maintenance. So the enlisted men would maintain their equipment and weapons. And the officers, we would play some softball. And once in a great while, we'd have a can of beer. Very rare.
B: What were the conditions like where you were. Was it a tent city or…?
G: It was tent city entirely. All tent city. And it worked out fine. It was reasonably comfortable. The weather of course was terrible.
B: How so?
G: It rained every day at four o'clock exactly. But it was hot and humid. And one thing, I have an aversion to snakes. I really, I'll say I hate snakes. And of all the people to be sent to New Guinea it would be me. However, I had only one example that I shall never forget. Driving down the road in a Jeep, and officers didn't drive. We had enlisted driver. And the driver, and of course the top was down, no top. No windshield or anything. The windshield was down because you didn't get the reflection. And we were driving along and right in front there was a big python crossing the road. I yelled out, "Jeez, Smith, for God's sake don't hit that thing!" Hit that thing and it would fly up into the thing. So he missed and I let that thing go. And that was really the only snake I saw but I'm sure there were some close to our bivouac area. But they never bothered me and I certainly didn't look for em.
Then after we were there, we boarded ships again and proceeded to the Philippines. We were the reserve unit aboard ship at the battle of Leyte. And although I did get a combat star for Leyte, we never did go aboard. We never landed. We stayed aboard ship. And Leyte was important because General MacArthur waded ashore with much publicity and announced that he had returned.
But we stayed aboard ship and proceeded on to Subic Bay, which is at the foot of the Bataan Peninsula. And Bataan of course is the famous World War II place where in 1942 we had to surrender. And Gen. Wainwright surrendered the forces. General MacArthur, who had been in the Philippines was able to proceed to Australia where he developed the plans and so on for the final invasion.
B: Before we talk about your actual landing there in Bataan, think back now to that time and try to tell me, what was your perception of the Japanese as an enemy? For one thing, how did you look at that? And tell me another thing, did you think the allies would be victorious?
G: There was no question whatsoever but what we were going to be victorious. And we had a far superior military force. There was no question, no fear whatsoever to land. And my perception was that the Japanese, we knew that the Japanese would never give in. They'd never surrender. It was kill to the last man. And take no prisoners. If we could take prisoners we would have but we had very little opportunity because they never surrendered. So it was taking inch by inch the entire peninsula of Bataan, which then led to Manila.
B: What was your role in that?
G: My role of course was as an artillery battery commander. And I guess I could start out by saying that we landed at Subic Bay and I was one of the first, I landed the first of my unit. And landed with a small group of two or three enlisted men. I said, "We'll go forward now and find a bivouac area, a gun position and a bivouac area." Which we did. We started proceeding. While they were unloading we proceeded on inland. And suddenly an artillery shell exploded behind us. And I thought gee, that's getting pretty close. And a short time later another one landed in front of us. Now in artillery adjustment, you bracket your fire. You have a shot that's too far, too short, and you bracket it and then you fire for effect. I said, "Jeez, I hop they don't fire for effect now." And I said, "We better get down in the ditch." Because we might avoid some of the shell fragments. Which we did. My patrols, a small patrol and I, we lay flat in the ditch for some time. Nothing happened. For some reason or another, either the Japanese didn't see us or they were awfully poor artillerymen. And didn't bracket their fire. Because if they had bracketed the fire, I probably wouldn't be here.
B: You know, this leads to a good question.
(The first tape ends here).
B: How does an artilleryman hit his target? If somebody says to you, we have a target. We want you to destroy bunkers or troop concentrations. How does that work? How do you know where to fire? Maybe you could explain that whole process.
G: In today's artillery, it is highly technical. And it is, the target's location is determined by GPS. Really high tech. We had none of that at those times. In those times we had to observe. Either by small aircraft or by artillery observation post. You get some high ground and you can see the enemy and you select the position on the map where it is. Get those coordinates back to the fire direction center and they would fire. You would observe that fire. You had to observe it by binoculars. And it's short - increase the range. It would be over. Then split the bracket. And if that's short, split the bracket again until you hit the target. And then you fire for effect. That's the overall picture.
B: Earlier when you were talking about your friend that was sent to Europe in the 2nd Division, you said artillery officers had a fairly high casualty rate.
G: Yes. The reason is that the lieutenants are the ones that had to get up in the front, the very front and adjust the artillery fire. They had to be with the leading infantry. And the senior artillery officers, it's different there. But the lieutenants, those who were forward observers, it was called, they did. They had a high casualty rate because of their position, where they had to be. And they had to find areas where they could observe. And chances are they could be observed too.
B: So you're landing on Bataan now and now you're going to face the enemy. Could you explain what happens at that point, how you progressed up? And what were some of your experiences and tasks?
G: Yes. The infantry proceeded forward but before they could attack a certain Japanese stronghold, they needed artillery fire. The artillery forward observer would call back to the gun position and we would then give an artillery barrage and after we lift the fire, then the infantry would proceed forward and capture the high ground and kill the enemy. And they proceeded and this would go on and on until we had captured the entire island, peninsula of Bataan. And then on to Manila.
B: So then you must have been moving your positions…
G: We moved forward. As the infantry moved forward, we would move forward. Some of the artillery fire was also adjusted by aircraft. Small unarmed single motor aircraft. Because naturally you could get observation that was very good.
B: You were awarded a medal for an event that happened. Maybe we could talk about that a little bit.
G: Yes. This occurred, actually we had taken Manila and we were then fighting east of Manila. And as an artillery commander I boarded the aircraft, flew in the aircraft and observed positions, instances of Japanese. For example, you could see a campfire somewhere behind the enemy lines. You would spot that and that would be information that there were probably Japanese there. The Japanese soldiers. Some smoke coming up from their kitchen. Anything like that. Any observed. Then send the information back. That, as I say it was unarmed because there was simply a slow moving aircraft. Fortunately I was never fired on that I know of. Although riding in a Jeep one time, I did somehow or another, a sniper put a hole, this time I had the top up, put a hole in the top of the Jeep. That was the closest I came. And that was close enough.
B: What were the Japanese like as soldiers?
G: The Japanese were ferocious and they were very, very well trained. Very proficient. And very good soldiers. No question about it. They were the best of the Japanese army. And they fought until they were dead. And they were perfectly willing to make suicidal attacks. Perfectly willing.
One of our problems was at nighttime, we did some firing at night too. But the Japanese would infiltrate in the hours of darkness. And they would infiltrate my gun position. Or they would try to. And so they would enter and throw hand grenades. And so one of my, as a battery commander of course, one of my jobs was to make sure we had perimeter security. Suitable guards around the perimeter to prevent that. And we used all kinds of devices. Sometimes we would find a cowbell or tin cans or something and tie a cord so that we could get some kind of information. We could hear in the darkness that somebody is trying to infiltrate.
B: What kind of arms did you as an officer carry?
G: I carried a 45-caliber pistol. And I also had available a carbine. Wonderful little weapon but not really particularly effective. But it was still a good weapon. My chief arm was a 45-caliber pistol.
B: Was that a good weapon?
G: Yes. Very good. It has been the weapon of choice since 1911, and up until just recently. And well, a few years ago. And now they've gone into a nine-millimeter pistol. But it was a very - heavy weapon. And very effective.
B: Were there any circumstances when the Japanese were actually able to penetrate your position?
G: No, not that I know of. No. They never were able to penetrate the position.
B: What was the liberation of Manila like? You mentioned that you were working your way toward Manila. Manila was, as I recall my history, very badly damaged and ransacked.
G: Yes it was. That's true. It was really destroyed. And it was declared an open city after awhile. But in the meantime it was destroyed and I can give you an interesting example here. Manila was destroyed and it remained in shambles for a long time. All the time I was there it remained in shambles. Now at a later time, at the end of the war, I was send to Korea to command a unit up there. And I visited Tokyo, landed at Tokyo. And I was amazed at the contrast between these two cities. Manila remained a shamble with piles of bricks here and there. And driving through Tokyo, there was not a single brick out of place. It was in shambles too but everything had been cleaned up. The bricks were piled neatly. It shows you the difference in the work ethic between these two peoples.
B: Did you have very much contact with the Philippine people or learn what had happened under Japanese occupation? Or as you moved, following the Japanese retreat?
G: No. I had very little actual contact with the Philippino people other than a few people who we hired as waiters in the officers mess and a few things like that. But other than that, with the people themselves I had very little. Although I do know by reputation that the Philippine scouts were very efficient. And they were commanded by U.S. Army officers. And they were very loyal and very good soldiers. And they fought bravely at the beginning of World War II. So they were very good but the Philippino people were, well the climate makes a difference too. It's a tropical climate and people don't move fast in tropical climates.
B: What's it like there? If you were trying to describe it to me and paint a mental picture for me.
G: The island of Luzon which is the main island of the Philippines is a very beautiful place. And in the northern part of Luzon is the resort town of Bagio. And I was able to go up there on one week-end and see what a beautiful place it was. And I really enjoyed that tropical climate. It was just beautiful. And Manila was called the "Pearl of the Orient." And I can understand why. I'm sure that it was absolutely beautiful.
At the end of the World War II, Japan had, the Japanese soldiers had pretty well been defeated completely in the Philippines. Only in the Philippines. My infantry division was waiting for, we were in training waiting for the next mission. We didn't know what. But in the meantime we enjoyed a little bit of relaxation and small training here and there. Keep the troops in shape.
One day in August, early in August the story came down that something big is going to happen. And we had no idea what our next mission was going to be. This was top secret information. Although I was qualified to read top secret information, this was top secret "need to know" basis. In fact they didn't push, they didn't send this down to smaller commanders. But the story came down that something really big was going to happen. And I had no idea what it was going to be and let that thing go and suddenly the bomb was dropped, the atomic bomb. At Hiroshima and then at Nagasaki. This marked the end of the war. This was going to be the end of the war and it was. It wasn't until much later that I learned that the 38th Infantry Division, my outfit, were going to be the initial troops to land in Japan. We were going to be the first to land and the casualty rate was estimated at 50%. So my thought is, thank goodness the atomic bomb was developed. So again I lucked out on that.
B: You mentioned Manila. Manila was guarded by Corregidor out in the harbor.
G: Yes. Corregidor.
B: You, part of your combat experience was the assault on Corregidor.
G: Yes. That's true. And there on Corregidor it was a matter of firing weapons onto the island. And not actually, we were not in the shock troops. Well part of the infantry division was. Actually we had a, one of the parachute battalions landed. They had, it was kind of a disaster. The wind was not favorable and we hadn't really developed as much skill at that time as we have today. But they did land there, but very, very heavy casualties because they didn't land exactly where they were supposed to land. However the 38th Infantry Division went ashore, landed. In the meantime we in the artillery fired weapons, fired onto the island.
B: Did you have the same battery of 105s?
G: Yes. At that time it was 155. It's a bigger weapon. The 105 millimeter, that was when I was a lieutenant and platoon commander in the 2nd Division. But when I was in the 38th Infantry Division, I commanded a general support battalion which consisted of 155 millimeter.
B: Are those what they refer to as "long Toms?"
G: No. Long Tom was another weapon. They also could be the same caliber but they would fire at a much longer range. These were the short range, well not really very short range but infantry division. And firing in front of the infantry before they made the assault.
B: During this period of you're overseas, let's just say from the time in New Guinea until the end of the war, did you have very much contact through letters with your family back in Oshkosh?
G: Yes. Ruth and I corresponded all the time. And we wrote and the letters, they didn't come regularly but when they did come I'd get two or three or four at a time. And I wrote to her as much as I could and we corresponded all the time. And I also wrote to my mother, and my father had died. And I wrote to my sisters also.
B: Was there any special way in which you tried to cope with the difficulty of being overseas? Is there anything you could share about, obviously it was much different 60 years ago than it is today.
G: Yes it is. There really was very, very little entertainment. No radio, no television of course. And it was a little different in the Far East where we really didn't have much entertainment to go to. I suppose, and it is true, that other troops who went to Europe had a far different life. They could enjoy the wine and that sort of thing. None of that in the Philippines at all until after the war.
And after the war we were waiting to, while we were waiting to go to Japan or fight or something, we had time in the afternoon to play cards. And I developed the game of bridge. And I simply became enamored of that game. And I wrote to Ruth and said, "Please cut out the clippings, the bridge clippings in the newspaper and send them as soon as you can." Which she did. And of course now it's one of my big activities, is playing bridge. Contract, tournament bridge.
B: It must have been a really memorable time when you learned that Japan surrendered.
G: Yes it really was.
B: Was there any celebration at your unit?
G: It was. At that time we had a makeshift officers club. And we were able to, somehow or other, we were able to obtain for the officers club a couple of bottles of Seagram's Seven Crown. And how the quartermaster was able to do that I don't do. But that was the first celebration of the war. And that was the first any kind of entertainment of that type that we did. From then on it was really relaxed completely. And then the troops started going home except the regular army officers and it was a different life then.
B: Well explain to me how you were extended but, explain to me how you eventually made your way home from the Philippines. And then what happened as you were reunited with Ruth?
G: Oh yes. At the end of the war, then the 86th Infantry Division from Europe came over to the Philippines. My own 38th Division went on home without me. Among a few other regular army officers. And we joined the 86th Infantry Division. And there I was a battalion executive.
B: Would that mean a change in rank too?
G: Well I had already been promoted to major. And at the end of combat I was promoted to major and then I was put on the division artillery staff. They needed some officers in Korea in the 6th Infantry Division. I mean I've been in several infantry divisions. And I was selected to go to Korea. That was my first experience in Korea. And that's when I saw Tokyo.
B: When did you leave and what period of time are we talking about?
G: We're talking about right at the end of the war. End of 1945. And war was officially over and now the occupation troops started and I had two or three months left in my 38 months before I was eligible to go home. And I went to Korea. And I went to the 6th Infantry Division. And at the end of the 30 months, they couldn't let me go and extended me for three months. And that was my second extension.
B: What was Korea like?
G: Korea was the "land of the morning calm," something like that. And it was really another beautiful country. It was ah, unusual odors all the time. But it was primitive and you saw the old Koreans with their typical Korean dress. And the Koreans were afraid of us. They didn't know what to expect. They hadn't seen us. They had been under the heels of the Japanese for some time. And they were really afraid of us.
But at the end of that period of time I finally got to go home. And it was a grand and glorious day.
B: Describe it for me would you please?
G: I arrived home and awaited orders. Wasn't sure where we were going. And I got reunited with my wife and daughter. And father-in-law.
B: Where at?
G: In Oshkosh.
B: You took the train here?
G: Yes. Yes. And the orders came in to be the artillery instructor for the South Dakota National Guard. I think they selected that for one thing. It's near my home perhaps. And perhaps they thought I could have an assignment that was not too difficult.
And so we moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. And housing was scarce but we found housing there. And one afternoon in Sioux Falls, war was over now, everything was quiet and peaceful. And on the way home from the office I stopped at a grocery store in uniform to pick up something. And an individual stopped me. And he could hardly believe. He said, "Here's somebody in uniform." He stopped me and said, "Say, excuse me. Are you still in the Army?" And he could not understand that anybody would still be in the Army. I said, "Yes, I'm still in the Army and I probably will be for quite awhile."
But I enjoyed that assignment very, very much.
B: Now you had intended to make the Army your career from day one.
B: So this was a decision on your part that didn't waver?
G: Never. No, never at all. I had, it was a difficult assignment later on in Korea as a commander. Uncomfortable and difficult.
B: Could we talk about that a little?
B: How and when were you assigned to Korea?
G: Okay. After three and a half years at Sioux Falls, South Dakota in which another daughter was born, and we went to fort Sill, Oklahoma. And while I was there as a student in the advanced artillery course, the Pentagon called me up and said, "Would you like a tour as a military attaché to Cairo, Egypt?" And gee, I thought, boy that's wonderful. I remembered that Ruth liked art history and she was interested in Egypt at one time. And she showed an interest there. And I said, "Yes, I'll take it. Fine." And the orders came and I thought, well this is going to be interesting.
The orders came not to go to Cairo, Egypt but first of all to go to Monterey, California for a whole year of Arabic. Studying Arabic. Which I did. I went out there and spent a whole year studying the language. And then we went back to Washington, D.C. and then another course in counter-intelligence training. And another of more training. And finally we got aboard ship and went to Egypt. Cairo, Egypt.
B: Were you aware, what does a military attaché do? And when you took this assignment, did you know what your responsibilities would be?
G: No. When I took that assignment, I really had very little idea what it was like. I really didn't. I didn't know I was going to language school. I didn't know what training was required but that sounded to me like it was a pretty good assignment and so I accepted. And one didn't turn down too many assignments either.
And so the military attaché, you have two bosses. One is the ambassador and the other is the Pentagon, the G-2 Intelligence in the Pentagon. And your mission is to represent the United States Army and to keep abreast of military, anything of military significance that occurs in that country and to report back to the Pentagon or to the ambassador if it warranted. And attend a great number of receptions, and cocktail parties and dinners. There was no question about that. It was a very strenuous social life.
But Cairo was one of the plumbs of the assignments. And I was very fortunate. And Ruth, we absolutely, we called it the "Golden Age of the Johnsons." Because we enjoyed all three years of it.
B: What were some of the things that happened to you there in the course of your three years in Egypt? Was there any unrest or were there projects…?
G: Yes. From time to time there would be some unrest. And you see, the Egyptians put us in the same category with the British. And actually our embassies are right across the street from each other. And so, they hated the British. And so, if they knew we were Americans, they wouldn't hate us but they hated the British mainly and somewhat the Americans too. But I did, I got along fine with the Egyptians and I knew some Egyptian officers. And we got along well with the other attaches from different countries. Every country was represented in Cairo.
B: Cairo was considered to be a key part of the Middle East.
G: Yes. It was the key to the Middle East. For three years, although from time to time Ruth and family didn't go out of the quarters. They didn't leave home. They stayed right there. Because it was possible unrest. But it ah, nothing really exploded. Actually, as I have said, we left in 1955 and in 1956 the Suez Canal was nationalized and all hell broke loose and I said, "Well, that's what happened after I left." (Laughter).
B: Was there very much intrigue surrounding the creation of Israel and Palestine as it impacted you at this time? Because there was an awful lot going on.
G: Yes. Somewhat. The Arab, the mentality of the Arab is that they have one mission in life and that is to destroy Israel. And it is so ingrained in their bringing up. And for example, I was absolutely forbidden from traveling to Israel while I was there. Because if I had gotten a visa to go to Israel, I'd never get back to Egypt. I'd be persona non grata. So I didn't but we observed. We tried to find out whatever was happening so we could learn. We learned what we could at cocktail parties. It's true. We would talk to other military attaches and talk to Egyptian officers. And if some information were received, I personally would jot it down as soon as I got home. And in some cases report it. So there was that intrigue. An Egyptian could not travel to Israel.
B: You know, I think at this time in world history, in our history we all struggle to understand the Arab mind. And our troops now are deeply involved over in Iraq. Do you have any thoughts after spending time with that, studying the Arab world, do you have any thoughts on that?
G: Yes I do. Unh huh. And I don't believe that the Arab people will ever espouse the Americans. I don't believe that it is in their nature. I don't think that they could do that. They hate the Jews and they have that inherent dislike, and distrust, and jealousy - it's true - of the Jewish people. And so I don't think that… Our problem in Iraq is to try to make friends with the Arab. And it's awfully difficult to do. And I must say that I think we might have spent more time studying this before we made this big invasion of Iraq.
B: Another former military person told me recently that the Arab mentality does not lend itself to democracy. Is that anything that you observed?
G: It's quite possible in some ways of looking at it. Yes. It does. I think that it may lend itself to studying the Koran and the young Arab over there has grown up and he's imbued with that spirit that we must push the Israelis back into the sea. And the other thing I wanted to bring out too was that they feel that we are so much behind Israel in everything they do. And of course it's true that we provide them with an enormous amount of aid. And it is true that it appears that we favor the Israelis towards the Palestinians. And therefore we are enemies right along with the Israeli people. And I think the Israelis do have a right to protect their homeland and to certainly protect themselves.
B: What happened after your assignment in Cairo? That lasted three years?
G: Yes, that lasted three years. And it was rather an exhausting life that we led there. I was assigned to command a general staff college. And no, yes, I was assigned to Command and General Staff College and then at the end of that time…
B: Were you still a major?
G: No. I was a Lt. Colonel. Yes I was a Lt. Colonel and assigned, graduated from the Command and General Staff College. And immediately went to Syracuse. I was offered an opportunity to get an MBA degree. Well I wanted that. Absolutely wanted that and I accepted that right away. So I went right from rigorous ten months training at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, right to Syracuse, New York to graduate school. A year and a half later I had finished there and I was assigned to the Pentagon. That was a utilization tour so to speak. An officer and controller of the Army. And at the end of three years…
B: What does that involve there?
G: Well that involved of course the financial management of the Army.
B: Heavy responsibility. It sounds like an awful lot of number crunching, analyzing…
G: Yes it was. And management. It turned out to be a very good assignment. I enjoyed it. I had a chance to travel throughout the world and the various commands in Alaska and Europe and so on. And visit the staff headquarters.
B: Did your family follow you around to these various stations? So when you were in Syracuse…?
G: Yes they did. The family, yes they did. The family there and we were able to rent a little place in Syracuse. And that was nice too. I enjoyed that and number three offspring was born there. Actually born in Washington. So that was a very nice assignment. I enjoyed that graduate school.
After the end of three years at the Pentagon I was then sent back to Korea. But this time to get a command assignment. And I went back to command the artillery battalion. And there was again, I mentioned twice now that was the result of my being extended for three months. And I enjoyed that command and there I was promoted to full colonel.
B: Now Korea at the time you were there, that was not too long after the Korean War. So tensions must have been very high there.
G: Yes. At that time there were. At that time it was not a pleasant assignment although I did enjoy the command aspect of it. But it was difficult because we had to have some Korean soldiers in along with our troops, called [Katusa]. The Koreans would break into our compounds and steal everything they could. And everything was doing everything with one hand tied behind your back. It was a difficult assignment but I was able to get through it okay and I got my promotion. And I then, as I mentioned, the result of that extension gave me the assignment of Auburn.
And at the end of three years at Auburn…
(The second tape ends at this point).
B: So you left Korea after a number of years and were assigned to Auburn.
G: Yes. A total of 16 months in Korea and then went directly to Auburn where I was a PM, professor of military science and commandant of cadets. Military training was a required then so I had a large cadet corps. And that was a very, very enjoyable time too. I enjoyed the South and we both did. Ruth and I both enjoyed the southern hospitality. We were a couple of Yankees moving down to Alabama, but we liked it. And I thought, someday I'm going to retire right here in Auburn because we made a lot of friends in town. At the end of three years I put in for an extension, thinking that I would extend for another year and then retire at Auburn.
B: What year would this have been?
G: Now this was in 1965. But the Pentagon would not accept that extension. They said, "You've got to go to Europe because ah, you're going to go to Europe and there you're going to be a controller." Again because you see I had gone to graduate school and MBA degree, I was sent to Europe then, to Munich, Germany. And there I was the Deputy Chief of Staff Controller for the U.S. Army Area Command.
B: And you developed something that was called "The Johnson Plan." Tell me about that. How did that all come about and what all did that entail?
G: While I was there at Auburn, I mean at Munich and it was a very, very nice assignment, and I noted that we had ten districts throughout the entire country of Germany. And the financial resources would be allotted to all these districts. One at Nurnberg and Stuttgart and all over the country. And I noted that some of em complained that they were short of funds and others didn't complain.
And so I developed a plan and thought, I think I'd like to find out who's over funded and who's under funded.So let's find out what their mission is. Each and every mission. And I had a management section. I had an audit section, a finance section and an audits and management. And I put them to work and they got all kinds of data together. What are your, what are the fixed costs for each one? And how many barracks do you have to support? How many troops do you support? And what are your utility costs? And about ten different items that I assigned weights, arbitrary weights to.
And I made a big chart. But I visited each one of em too first. I made staff visits to each one and I got the picture of it. Then I came back and put all this together in a big chart and decided that there was really an imbalance. That one of the big districts had a controller who was an MBA himself. And he was able to put forth a budget that in the past he was able to get more than his share, really, of the resources. Then I drew up this big chart and talked it over with the other staff officers and got their approval. They agreed it was. And then I presented it to the commanding general and he said, "That's a good idea. We'll implement it."
And so they did. And there was some gnashing of the teeth by those who found that they were going to have a reduced one, and some pleased looks by those who were under-funded and who needed it; who had a requirement that they didn't… So that was the so-called Johnson Plan. And I didn't really know it was the Johnson Plan at the time, until later on when I, well I guess when I read about it in the award that I got later on.
B: This was right at the height of the cold war. And as you were in Germany at the time, all the emphasis really would have been focused on the Communist threat from the Soviet Union. Were you involved in any plans or any activities that were directed toward how the NATO would respond at all?
G: I was involved in this respect, that Charles DeGaulle who was the president of France at the time, he wanted the troops out of France. Well we had a big headquarters called Communication Zone in France. And they then were to move to Germany from France. And that meant that everything was going to be changed and my own headquarters, the US Army Area Command and my wonderful 12 districts and everything would change commanders and they would be under a different command. A different command setup completely. And my own headquarters then was disbanded and this was an enormous amount of planning, to move troops from the headquarters in France over to Germany. To disband my headquarters. And then I was sent up to Heidelberg to the higher headquarters, the Supreme Headquarters for Europe. And there I was again the deputy controller. And I had one year left and at the end of the year of course that was the end of my three years.
B: Was there any impact remaining that you could see of the Second World War in Europe? This would be in the sixties sometime?
G: Yes. It was in the sixties.
B: Could you see any remaining devastation from the Second World War at that time?
G: Really not too much. No, very, very little. The wonderful buildings in Germany, and Germany is a beautiful country, the cities which had devastated by bombs had been pretty well cleaned up and I saw very little examples of that. And the German people liked us and it was a pleasant experience to live there. And very comfortable quarters, living quarters, of course. And it was very pleasant. At the end of three years I decided that I wanted to be a stockbroker and it was time to retire.
B: So by that time you must have spent at least 30 years…
G: Twenty-seven years since being a lieutenant and 31 years including four years at West Point.
B: So then you retired and then where did you make your home?
G: We thought, shall we go to Auburn, or should we go to Oshkosh or where should we go? It's a big choice. Went back and forth. And we decided to go to Oshkosh. And Ruth's father was here and he was getting along in years and she thought it would be nice to live here. And she knew, of course she knew a lot of people in town. And so I agreed that we would do that. And we moved back here.
And each year we would drive back to Auburn. And then I would grouse about the weather up here. And she always said, "Well, if it's too bad, we'll move to Auburn." But I didn't want to move to Auburn. I liked this place.
B: What year did you come here?
B: So you've seen a lot of changes in the community.
G: Yes I have.
B: What are some of the bigger changes that you've noticed over your life here in Oshkosh?
G: Well, my own life of course, after 20 years here, then my wife died of cancer. So the changes in town, I suppose you could say: "Plus c'est changes, plus c'est lo meme chose." The more things change, the more they are the same. Things haven't changed an awful lot in a lot of respects but it has grown. It has grown so much that it has become an industrial town. In that respect there has been change. When you look at the commercial ventures that have begun and flourished in town. Those are the main changes.
B: Did you join a firm when you got here or did you start your...
G: Yes I did. When I, first of all I took a test for a broker fee and joined Schultz Company. The Schultz, then after a couple of years he sold out. He sold his firm and that ended the firm of Schultz Securities. And I didn't do anything for a year and really I missed doing something so I joined up with Carl Hennig. And I was there for two or three, about 8 years. And then I had a chance to teach the course up at Fox Valley Technical Institute. And one night a week at something like that. And it was, I liked that so much. And then after a couple of years I thought I think I'll just retire from the broker fee entirely because it's a sort of a conflict of interests too. If you're going to teach a subject from the platform. And so then for ten years I taught that thing. And that was my activity. And at the age of 75 I noticed that I was running out of steam a little bit. Two hours on a platform and I was running out of steam a little bit. I said, "I think I'll retire from that too." So now I'm completely retired except for playing duplicate bridge. And practicing the piano.
B: And golfing.
G: And golfing, yes.
B: Well this has been very enjoyable. I guess I don't really have anything more but if you'd like to add anything, feel free. If you want to talk about something that you feel that we should.
G: I think that I would like to state that the military career has been a wonderful glamorous life. It is fraught with some difficult times, difficult assignments and difficult separations from your family. But overall, I wouldn't trade it for the world.
B: Well that's a great way to sum it all up. So thank you very much George. I enjoyed it a lot.
|Oral History Interview with Allan George W. Johnson.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact email@example.com