Posted by: notsofancynancy | April 24, 2014

Honoring 1st Lieutentant Rod Johnson

1st Lieutenant Rod Johnson

1st Lieutenant Rod Johnson, 1921-2007, Winquest-Johnson Collection

I have the privilege of bringing you the career information on another soldier from the 110th Quartermaster; Company A. Born in 1921 Rod Johnson was just a couple of years younger than my father. In 1937 he joined the National Guards in Holdrege, Nebraska and in 1940 he reenlisted as an active duty corporal.

Then the date comes that I have become so familiar with. 23 December 1940 he along with Mr. Winquest, Marvin Cain, my father, and most of the young men in Nebraska were mustered into the Army for one year active service. If you follow my blog you may know that one year turned into almost five years including a year overseas.

 You can click on the picture to make them bigger

Aug 1941, Sgt. Rod Johnson" Louisiana Maneuvers 1941, Winquest-Johnson Collection

Aug 1941, Sgt. Rod Johnson” Louisiana Maneuvers 1941, Winquest-Johnson Collection

Like with the others of the 110th Quartermaster he headed to Camp Robinson where he was promoted to Sargent. He attended the Tennessee, and Louisiana Maneuvers then after Pearl Harbor was bombed with the rest he was sent to guard the California Coast.

This is where he parts ways with the 110th QM when on 31 December 1942 he attended Officers Training school at Camp Lee, Virginia which earned him the title of 2nd Lieutenant. From April 12 to June 4, 1943hecompleted 2 month “A” Course, Ordnance Automotive School at Ft. Crook, Nebraska followed by 2 week school in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Johnson was then assigned to 460th Amphibian Truck Co. In June 1943 he was Appointed Maintenance Officer by Capt. Tokaz. According to his step-daughter Julie:

he was allowed to interview men for the maintenance platoon. Rod often said it was because he chose such good mechanics that they were successful in Europe. He was then sent to Detroit Michigan for 3 week to General Motors Maintenance School. Rod said “I became quite adept at handing my men the right tool”. He says he passed the test because of their help. He met Mr. Dye a General Motors Engineer who later joined their DUKW companies in England on maneuvers. There he shared his expertise many times.   After the school, they returned to Charleston.

 

Rod Johnson in his "Amphibious Gleep"

Rod Johnson in his “Amphibious ‘Gleep” Winquest-Johnson Collection

Wikipedia explains what a DUKW is:

The DUKW (colloquially known as Duck) is a six-wheel-drive modification of the 2-ton capacity “deuce” trucks used by the U.S. military in World War II amphibious truck, designed by a partnership under military auspices of Sparkman & Stephens and General Motors Corporation (GMC) for transporting goods and troops over land and water, and approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious attacks. Designed only to last long enough to meet the demands of combat, DUKWs were later used as tourist craft in marine environments.

On 19 December 1943 Johnson was transferred to New York City preparing to make the journey overseas for which he departed on 23 December. He arrived in Garoc, Scotland and went by train to Exter, England and then on to Paignton where he remained until 16 May. On 10 May 1944 he was promoted to 1st Lieutenant. He departed Paignton on the 16th for the Marshalling area. According to Definitions.net a marshalling area is:

A location in the vicinity of a reception terminal or pre-positioned equipment storage site where arriving unit personnel, equipment, materiel, and accompanying supplies are reassembled, returned to the control of the unit commander, and prepared for onward movement. The joint complex commander designating the location will coordinate the use of the facilities with other allied commands and the host nation, and will provide life support to the units while in the marshalling area.

From 2 June to the 5th he loaded an LST and awaited orders. Their destination was Verville-Sur-Mer, France.

Loading a DUKW, Mr. Johnson's company working Normandy Beach 1944

Loading a DUKW, Mr. Johnson’s company working Normandy Beach 1944, Winquest-Johnson Collection

7 June 1944 1st Lt. Johnson arrived on Normandy Beach. He would spend the next three months unloading ships from ship to shore.

How many trips did he have to make and how much did he see? Three months on the beach there must have like living in hell.  These early days of Normandy saw a lot of our men killed. I don’t think that was something he would ever forget.

In September he would move to Formigny, France where he they loaded supplies and headed to Hirson, France. From October to December he was attached to 16th Major Port Battalion and moved cargo to a warehouse in Le Harve, France.

14 December 1944 they receive a message:

150 German paratroops landed far behind lines. Location unknown. Wearing American uniforms. Riding 4 men to a jeep. 40 Engineers mission to destroy any Hq 40 Signal personnel. The rest are Recon. Personnel. Their mission is to proceed to the Meuse River.

 

Andenne Belguim

Andenne Belguim, note the snow on the ground, Winquest-Johnson Collection

His unit departed Gemenich and arrived in Andenne, Belgium but Johnson and 350 others were left behind as “rear detail.”

19 December they receive another communication that they are surrounded on three sides and “to get out” The message says the troops are:

Selected personal of the 105th Panzer Brigade and possible speak English. Three had been captured but the rest remained at large.

"Meuse River Practicing Jan 45 Belgium, Cold"

Mr. Johnson wrote: “Meuse River Practicing Jan 45 Belgium, Cold” Winquest-Johnson Collection

With the Battle of the Bulge raging on 20 December Lt. Johnson spent two weeks training in river crossing near Andenne on the Meuse River. From then until March they spent the time running around Belgium and Germany. Then on 15 March 1945 the DUKW’s crossed the Rhine. Three days later the Regmagen Bridge collapsed killing 67 men.

The unit then headed to Honnef, Germany which is where they were on VE-Day, 7 May 1945.

Back in Le Harve enlisted men with 85 point or more left to go home. The remainder of the Company rode across France in boxcars measuring 40×8. On the 20th they arrived at Arles staging area 40 miles from Marseilles for processing and direct redeployment to the Pacific.

Wow, I can’t even imagine what that was like. Fighting in France and then direct deployment to the war in the pacific? Mr. Johnson had already been overseas two months shy of two years.

They spent a month in Arles while they awaited orders. Some of the men got lucky enough to draw leave and headed to the French Rivera, according to notes Mr. Johnson left. The unit boarded USS Gen. W. F. Hase, bound for the Pacific. (Probably Marseilles)

Orders changed at sea, “Destination USA”. I bet there was one heck of a celebration on that ship when those orders came across the wire. God was looking over these soldiers.

They arrived back in the USA on 27 August and were disbanded at Camp Gordon Johnson Tallahassee, Florida.

I want to share a touching email I received from Julie. It shows not only how this war affected Mr. Johnson but also how it has touched us, the children of these soldiers:

I don’t know if I told you that my sisters and husbands and I made a trip to Europe a few years ago to follow in the path of both Dad and Rod.  It was an emotional trip.  We had left Rod, telling him we would bring back sand from Omaha Beach.  We knew he was suffering from dementia but did not realize how sick he was.  A few days before our return we got the news that he had been taken to a hospital and found he had a large brain tumor that had been overlooked. We quickly went home and only Mary Jane made it in time before he died.  I have that sand in a jar and think of both Dad and him every time I see it, usually with a few tears.  Rod’s memories of Omaha beach brought tears to his eyes because he was there on day 2 and saw many of our soldiers bodies in the sand.  He always cried when he talked about it.  Mom says my dad never wanted to talk about the war.  I think it was a very difficult time.  As Rod got older, he liked to remember. 

Thank you Julie for sharing Mr. Johnson with me. I really wish I could have known him but through you sharing his pictures and information I feel like I do. God bless him for his service. He is truly a hero.

Campaigns: Ardennes, Normandy, Central Europe, Northern France, Rhineland

Decorations: Distinguished Unit Badge, American Campaign Ribbon, European-African-Middle Eastern service medal, Service Arrowhead device (The Arrowhead device is for those who participated in airborne or amphibious assault landings).

 

Written with the help of Mr. Johnson’s step-daughter, Julie Sand

Reference, Julie’s document “Rod’s Military Career.”

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Responses

  1. My grandfather.

    • Jeff,

      Thank you for stopping by and thanks to your family for allowing me to get to know him through his memories. I know I would have loved him and only wish I would have had the chance to meet him.

      God Bless you and your family!

  2. My Grandfather also served in the 460th Amphibian Truck Co during the same time. This was great to read!

    • Thank you for your Grandfather’s service. I feel blessed to be able to honor Mr. Johnson and preserve a bit of his history.


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