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Interview on experiences in World War II

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INTERVIEWEE: Wilford E. Johnson


DATE: July 5, 2006

LOCATION: Sterling, Kansas

POE: Okay, we're on the air. So, if you could tell me your name.

JOHNSON: I'm Wilford Johnson. I'm 84 years old. I went in the   
service in 1945 and I was in about 15 months and I got sent home because then, you know, you had that point system and such, brought me home from and I went to high - I was born in Reno County. Walnut Township, Reno County. I went to service from that area. But I had lived in Alden for, well, and in fact I started living in Alden, er, going to Alden when I was in high school. And I married Mary Ella Grady in 1944. And she was a year behind me in high school, but we got they thought it was time for us to get married. We went together almost 5 years. And I worked on farm out south of Alden. The Ed Fair farm. And I worked there for several years. And I went in the Navy, well, I was deferred a few times. I don't remember how many because I was working on the farm. And I finally went into the Navy in `45. And then I was in the - the first thing, I got, I had a problem. I had they didn't check my, they didn't get my hernia when I was in Kansas City. I went to San Diego and they told me I had a hernia. I had a hernia surgery. And in that time somewhere I contracted Scarlet Fever. And a full Lieutenant done my surgery and so he had Scarlet Fever also. And later on I had measles. And, you know, I had the mumps first - I'm sorry. And I had the mumps and went into the mump ward and had the mumps. And then right out of that ward in the measles ward, I had the measles. Now why, I don't know. Where would you get `em with a bunch of guys and, you know, they're all well. Anyway, I got `em. And I got set back ten weeks because of surgery and such. And then I went by that time the ten weeks was quite a spell. Not really, but anyway, I was in San Diego when the Japanese surrendered. Every horn in the city, I think, blowed that night. When they declared, when the Japanese had surrendered. But we were sitting around there, not doing anything then, very little. They needed a [inaudible] outfit to go to Tsingtao, China. And we knew we weren't going to come home. We hadn't been in long enough to go home. But so, every person there - I forget, I think there's a hundred or so persons in each company of the [inaudible] outfit. And they sent us - we volunteered. Every person for that group volunteered, but one. They had to draft one person to go to Tsingtao, China. We got to Tsingtao and it was, I believe, it was my 22nd birthday. And we sat out there on the beach, or out there on the water there, for two weeks. Because a Marine officer was in charge of the area, so he wasn't gonna let us Navy people get off. And he kept us out there for two weeks. Just not doing nothing. And finally, I suppose, some government people got a hold of that and that we was able to go to shore. Tsingtao, China then was a good-size city. No businesses because the Japanese had just left there and all the stores was all cleaned out. And anything where the shop, it was a - on the sidewalk in front of the stores. But I remember there's quite a hill, quite a high place, and a big Catholic church set clear up there on the hill. And then we could see that. But later on then people started getting around and one day I was on liberty - I was based aboard ship. My brother was, er, I was land-based, I mean. My brother was based aboard ship. I was walking on liberty one day and somebody patted me on the back. I looked and it was my brother. He was in the Navy also. I don't know why they sent him for an R&R there but they were there for an R&R. Which is you wonder why. There's nothing there. But anyway, he was at we almost missed each other cause he had to be off of liberty at five o'clock. I didn't have to be off liberty till ten o'clock. Cause I was land-based and he's ship-based. So we made arrangements for immediately, I'd go to his ship with him, then he'd get an overnight pass and stay with me at the barracks. Which we did. And that went on for a little while. And they had to replace the [inaudible] of the being aboard the ship for the USS Crosley. So I said that I want to get on the ship with my brother. So, the draft for the USS Crosley - so many men, including Wilford Johnson. So I got and we were on the same ship then for a while. Until I come home from Shanghai. We made several trips from Tsingtao to Shanghai. And Shanghai to here and there. We moved a bank from Shanghai. The personnel, money and all to the Chen Wang Tao area. Now, that's another town. And so we were together there for, oh, I don't know, five or six months, whatever. And, like I said a while ago, I come home on the point system cause I was married and such. And my age wouldn't have made it, but I suppose because I was married, that brought me home. Well when I come home, I went right back to the farm I was working at before and feeding cattle and farming and such. Doing all that, of course, it was right back to what I had always done, so I knew what to do. They farmed quite a bunch of ground around Alden. And they also had a section and a half about 14 miles south of Sublet, Kansas. And we would go out there and harvest that, whatever, wheat crop. Of course, then it was only wheat in western Kansas. And I went, I did that for a few years and they built a Michigan-Wisconsin compressor station about two miles southeast of Alden. And you people know that, know where that is probably. And I made an application there and then in just a short time, I got a job there. And I worked there, I was a maintenance man when I started. When I quit, I was an operator. And when I went to work there was about, I think, 38 men working out there in the compressor and pipeline department. And it worked well and the job was well. And a good-paying job. And we worked shift work. After I got on an operation, we worked shift work. And we worked 8-hour shifts, but we changed every week. And for the wives of the family that's not good, because you never know where you're going the next day hardly. But I worked there. I retired in the last of June 1983. That makes me retired 20 - I guess about, figuring 23 years. I mean 33. No, 23 years. And, like I say, some of the people were us guys that lived that long after we'd been retired is the people that Social Security doesn't like, cause we're all still on Social Security [chuckling]. But it was a good place to live. A good place to work. A wonderful place to work. My older son did that. He worked out there some, on summertime help. He got to work three summers and he is now on his 30th year on the same pipeline, but it's not owned by the same people. Like I said, I've been retired since '83 and I've enjoy retirement, because I had things to do. I always had a garden. This year will probably be the first year for 60 years that I haven't had a garden. But living here at the houses at the back of the Presbyterian Manor is a good place to live when you've got to have this choice. My first wife died in '73. I remarried in '77. I married a lady that her husband, her first husband and I worked together for 22 years at the compressor station. My wife, my first wife died in '73 and my second wife's husband died in `74. We were married in `77. We had a real good, a wonderful life together. But the Lord took her away two years ago. And I now live by myself, which is not good. But where you live if you've got good place to live like here. It's wonderful. Cause I don't have much to do that I have to do at least. Only wake up and go to lunch, you know. And I had three children. Two boys and a girl. My second wife had three boys. I had a good relationship with all of them. And they've known each other even before we were married, so that made it good. We had a good relationship. And I was not raised by my parents because my mother died when I was five years old. My dad died in 1969. And I lived with my parents about, and growing up, only five years out of that time because of the things that happened and such and that's the way it worked. Is there anything else that you'd like for me to say?

POE: You said you didn't live with your parents. Did you live with your grandparents?

JOHNSON: I lived with my grandparents.

POE: Grandparents.

JOHNSON: Our grandparents took us - me and my brother in when I was five, going on six years old. That's where we went to school from, their home, and such. It's ten miles south of Alden on the county road. We drove to high school from there. And, of course, made a lot of new friends when we started at Alden because we didn't know any of those kids. And I still have friends out of that area. Alden was a good place to live and a good place to raise your kids, because there's not a lot of things going on there that goes on in other towns. And, of course, Alden then, when I was, when we got married, had a grocery store, hardware store, café, two cafes, barbershop, drugstore, the whole thing! Now it's a café and a post office and several craft shops are the only things left. But it's still a good place to live. But I chose to leave there and come here to get out of a lot of the work I was having to do. And I figured at 84 years old, it's time to taper off.

POE: [Chuckling] Tell me your birth date again.

JOHNSON: 11-10-21.

POE: 11-10-1921. Okay.

JOHNSON: Yeah, I'll be 85 November the 10th.

POE: And you said that you were born in Reno County?

JOHNSON: Uh huh.

POE: And what township was that?

JOHNSON: Walnut Township.

POE: Walton?

JOHNSON: Walnut. W-A-L-N-U-T.

POE: Walnut. Okay.

JOHNSON: Uh huh.

POE: And you were in the Navy?

JOHNSON: Uh huh.

POE: And what was your rank whenever you got out?

JOHNSON: Seaman 3rd, er, no… Carpenter mate 3rd.

POE: You remember your service member?

JOHNSON: 9580543.

POE: [Chuckling] Say that again. 958 …

JOHNSON: [Laughing] 9580543. You know, I did it!

POE: [Laughing] And you went into service in 1945?

JOHNSON: Uh huh.

POE: What month? Do you remember?

JOHNSON: Oh… March or April, in there. I can't remember.

POE: Okay.

JOHNSON: Probably March or April. I just, you know…

POE: Yeah…

JOHNSON: …don't remember exactly. I was in 15 months. I know that.

POE: And so that would put you out about…?


POE: July of…?

JOHNSON: July or August.

POE: Of…?


POE: 1946. Were you injured? Because the war was over…

JOHNSON: Yeah, but...

POE: …so there were no injuries?

JOHNSON: …no injuries

POE: Or any special awards…


POE: or anything like that?


POE: When you got out of the service did you, were you able to take advantage of the G.I. Bill in any way?

JOHNSON: No. I don't think - they didn't have it then, did they?

POE: I think they did shortly after.

JOHNSON: Well they might have, but I didn't.

POE: Yeah.

JOHNSON: Then, see, all I did was work on a farm [chuckling].

POE: [Chuckling] Do you remember, did you have a battalion, regiment, division? Or the ship that you were on…?

JOHNSON: Yeah, we was on the USS Crosley. C-R-O-S-L-E-Y.

POE: Okay. And the other thing is… Just had the one brother?

JOHNSON: Yeah, well… I did. See, out here southwest about 8 miles, my dad and my mother and my two stepbrothers and my two brothers lying on the same plot. But one brother died at birth and the other at, oh, probably three years old. He had a tumor in his head. That's what I remember, you know, about it.

POE: Yeah. You had any special training while you were in the service?


POE: Just…?

JOHNSON: Just whatever they needed to do [chuckling]. I could've taken radio and made it, I think. Because they give you a test and I got a good test. But it's all sound, you see. Da-dot, da-dot, da-da-da-da-dot [laughing].

POE: When you got out of the service and came back here, did you join the American Legion or VFW?

JOHNSON: Yes. Yeah. We had a good Legion at Alden, but most of the guys are gone, see. Now I've got a lifetime membership cause - we people that was left, that was original people, they just, what was left in the fund - they just give us all a lifetime memberships.

POE: Do you participate at the one here in Sterling now?

JOHNSON: No. I haven't done it. You know, I don't think I'd want to get involved with any of that now. If I was younger, okay. But, you know... But I go down there. I rode on the parade float yesterday.

POE: Oh, the 4th July parade.

JOHNSON: Yeah [chuckling]. Wasn't that a big parade?

POE: It was a big crowd.

JOHNSON: And last night! [Mr. Johnson is referring to the fireworks show put on by the City of Sterling] Do you have any idea how many people there were?

POE: No, I have no idea. I didn't go down there.

JOHNSON: Out there on, you know, the south side of the lake, pert near that whole block east of that was full of cars on both sides of the street. Up here by Dr. Simpson's house, that alley was a bunch of `em. And a lady, I sat in her backyard last night to watch, way back there another probably a block and a half. I swear there's nobody that even travels hardly at all. People every place that they could park a car. Like I said, my first wife, see, I worked with her first husband 22 years. The lady I visit now, her husband, I worked with him for 20-some years, too [laughing].

POE: [Chuckling] So you know the people you're…

JOHNSON: Like I said, this lady I've known her for over 50 years [laughing]. You know, cause living alone ain't good, you know [chuckling].

POE: You said you had a garden. Is there any other special interest or hobbies that you…?

JOHNSON: No. I've always raised a big garden in Alden. I could pick I would put 200 ears of corn in the deep freeze [chuckling]. And I always had lots of tomatoes and green beans and all that stuff. And now I don't have any. This year I thought, I ain't gonna plant a thing. I could have planted stuff here, but I'm not going to do it. And, you know, what're you gonna do? How're you gonna raise it? [chuckling] You know. And I raised we was married in `44 and we lived in a little house on the east end of Alden. And I know I had a garden, probably the first year I lived there. And I've had a garden ever since.

POE: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

JOHNSON: No, I don't - right now I can't think of anything. I'll probably think of something later, but I don't think there's anything else, you know. But I enjoy living here. If I want to go somewhere, why, like you're just keeping your car in your house cause on the other side of that wall is my garage [laughing]. It's good. Yeah. And they even clean the house. Every two weeks! They come in here and sweep it, dust stuff. Well, you can't beat it! You know. Or I can't, I don't think so.

POE: How do you - just a summary, how do you think that your military experience… did it change your life or…?

JOHNSON: Well, not change my life. I mean, I would take anything for it, but I wouldn't want to do it again. Now, see, when this whole thing happened, in the last few years, we had six grandsons just right to go to the service. But see, they don't have to have the draft anymore. So, yeah, we had six grandsons that were just right to go to service. You know, like what I had and such. But without the draft, they're not likely to go. And that's what I it's hard for me to figure out why they haven't had the draft. But they got enough people, so I guess they don't have to. Yeah. No, I wouldn't take if I had to go, well, I can't say I enjoyed going, but I didn't You know, you don't you can leave San Diego and go to, clear to Honolulu on a ship. It takes eight days! [chuckling] About 18 knots per hour [chuckling]. You know. And then we went on to Shanghai, well, Tsingtao, and then we went back and forth from Tsingtao to Shanghai several times. But moving that bank, see, they had racks, well what we called boats, but they called `em racks, on the side of the ship. And they had taken them all out to be moved - the people of this bank, we had to put a lot of them in for people to sleep overnight. It was different. But I was and then you learn things there you won't learn anywhere else. And a lot of `em do you a lot of good, you know. Like putting up with such and whatever, you know, things are not right, like you used to do it and that stuff. Yeah, it does you good. Even like that, I thought so. When we was in Pearl Harbor, we didn't do nothing. We did not one thing only eat, sleep, and sit on the beach, or on the docks where the ships come in. And there we'd see all kinds of ships, submarines, big ships, whatever. We just sat on the bank there and that's up here is where the ships got bombed. And that was a foolish thing, I think, why we got bombed like that. They was told, you know, that it was probably gonna happen. But they weren't prepared for it. That's why it happened like it did. But it, like to say, well, I enjoyed it in a way cause I know I wouldn't have done it any other way and such, you know. And my second wife and I, we got so we traveled. And one spring I told her, I said, er, no, one fall I said, ``We need to get our trip to Niagara Falls next summer.'' So we went down to Yoder and then that's the best place in the world to travel probably. Or we think. And we went down there that day and they was already forming a thing, so we paid our down payment. And if you ever have you ever been to Niagara Falls? You need to go someday. That's something you'll never see any place else. Where does all that water come from? [laughing] That's a lot of water. And then we went, we went on four trips like that. Yeah, we really enjoyed it. Well, see, we didn't have to come home. I wasn't working. We didn't have to come home to work. We just and some of `em were eighteen-day trips [chuckling]. That's quite a while. You would wear your clothes and then you wear 'em over again, sometimes [laughing]. You wouldn't want to wear `em the same day, but you'd wear some day next week. And they won't remember you wore 'em last week [laughing]. But we enjoyed trips like that. And we would she had a sister living in Tucson and another sister living in Cheyenne. We'd go see them real regular, too. And every so often. Which we'd never got to do before. You know, when you got kids, raising kids, you don't go for trips. But we were both, you know, able to do it, so we did it. And enjoyed it. And she and I had the same ideas. We lived the same way, you might say, and had the same ideas. It worked real well. My first wife, we started going together when she was her folks wouldn't let her go till she was 15. We started going when she was 15, almost five years, and then we got married [chuckling]. But that was different then than it is now. So, I don't - I don't think there's anything else.

POE: Well then, we will conclude this interview with Wilford Johnson here in Sterling, Kansas. Interviewer is Marian Poe.

[Marian turns the digital camcorder off and the interview is concluded at this time]

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