William H. Johnson
Staff Sergeant, 215th Signal Depot Company
First Army, First Army Special Troops, Attached to 1st Engineer
Hometown: Waukegan, Illinois.
I was drafted into the Army on July 23, 1942, and inducted at Fort
Sheridan, Illinois. On Sunday, July 26, I shipped out on a troop
train to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, arriving July 28. I took six
weeks of Infantry basic training there and made Acting Sergeant.
I enjoyed my stay there. I was the last person in my Battery to
be shipped out at the end of the training period, and thought I'd
been forgotten. Then the Battery commander told me I was going to
the Signal Corps and that I had been the only one selected. I left
there traveling on a civilian train to Camp Livingston, Louisiana.
I was the first one in my outfit to arrive; the outfit hadn't been
activated yet. I stayed with another outfit and attended Third Army
motor school to kill time. I learned to drive all kinds of army
After about a month, a captain, four lieutenants, and a first sergeant
showed up, and along with me, my outfit was activated. Shortly after
that a couple hundred men were shipped in, and we started basic
training for them. I was promoted to corporal. At the end of September
I was sent to Midland Radio and TV school in Kansas City, Missouri
for a three-month course in radio repair.
By the end of December I was
back at Camp Livingston. In February I went to Lexington Signal
Depot in Lexington, Kentucky for a three-month course in advanced
radio repair on F.M. radio. I was promoted to Buck Sergeant.
At the end of April, en route back to Camp Livingston, I had a three-day
delay and went home for three days. I wasn't back at camp long when
I got a nine-day furlough, so I went back to Waukegan. When I got
back to camp, the outfit took part in the big Louisiana Maneuvers
of 1943. After about a month I was called into Headquarters and
told I had a nine-day furlough coming. They made a mistake, but
I didn't say anything. I just took off for Waukegan. The family
thought I was over the hill, I had been home so often.
I was promoted to Staff Sergeant. I returned to the Louisiana Maneuvers,
then went back to Camp Livingston when they were over. By mid-September
we got the word we were going overseas. We went by troop train to
Camp Shanks, New York. We were there about three weeks, and I visited
New York City several times before they sealed us in.
In mid-October we were loaded
on a river excursion boat and sailed down the Hudson to the New
York docks. We passed by the burned-out, capsized Normandie on the
way. We got off, walked across the dock, and loaded on the USS Argentina,
a big ship. We were told 7,000 people were aboard. Each bunk was
assigned to two men; one night you slept in the bunk and one night
on deck. After the first night in the hold I didn't go down there
anymore, it smelled so bad. Everyone was seasick. I laid down for
the first two days until I got my sea legs, and then I was OK. Saw
a lot of porpoises en route.
I had no further problems during the trip, but I think everyone
was a little nervous. We were part of a large convoy with a lot
of Navy escorts that stretched all the way to the horizon, all the
way around. The weather was stormy about half the time.
After 11 days we arrived in Liverpool, England. I was really glad
to see dry land again, no matter where. We got off the Argentina,
walked across the dock, and boarded a train. English Red Cross women
came through with coffee and doughnuts. The old engine driver also
came through, cracking jokes and bumming cigarettes. He wouldn't
tell us where we were going. Military secret. We started up and
rode all night. We couldn't see anything, everything was blacked
In the early morning we arrived at Taunton, Somerset, and were trucked
out to Depot G-50 just outside Taunton. I liked England and Taunton
very much. We were well treated. There were several good pubs: Cross
Keys, The Boot Inn, The Gun Room. We stayed in G-50 from about November
1, 1943, to the middle of March 1944. We then left G-50 and were
billeted with English families in Taunton. They had no choice; they
were told how many soldiers they had to take. Two other soldiers
and I were billeted with a very nice middle-aged couple in a three-story
Toward the end of April we left Taunton for Hindon and were there
for about a month. My section, 23 of us, had a quonset hut in the
village by ourselves. The rest of the outfit was in a country house
outside of town.
About May 1, 1944, we left Hindon for Paington; this was just my
section. We did not see the rest of the company again until the
war was nearly over, in early 1945. In Paington we were issued a
lot of new equipment. We waterproofed our jeep, weapons carrier,
and 6x6 truck, and made camouflage nets for vehicles. Up to then
we really didn't realize what was going on, but it began to soak
in that something big was coming up. Until that time, the Army didn't
give out much information. Everything was top secret.
The third week in May we left Paington for a marshalling area outside
of Falmouth and were sealed in a camp. No one could get in or out.
No mail, no outside contact. They fed us very well, three big meals
a day: steak, ham, bacon, and eggs, as much as we wanted. Now we
really started to get nervous.
The last week in May we were
briefed on what was coming up: the invasion of Normandy. They told
us where we would land (Dog Red, Omaha Beach), where to go, and
what to do. They gave us the overall picture and our particular
part. A few days later we boarded vehicles and drove to a ramp near
Falmouth and loaded on an LST (landing ship, tank).
That night the bow doors were closed and we left. I couldn't see
a thing because of the black out. The next day we must have cruised
down the coast. We didn't know what the schedule was as far as time
went. We spent that night in a harbor of a big city on the coast.
The next night we heard the air fleet going over with the paratroops
and bombers, and we knew the invasion was on.
That night we left the harbor and sailed slowly all night. I didn't
sleep much. The next morning I went on deck. There were ships of
all sizes as far as you could see. We were in mid-channel, heading
for Normandy. The water was rough, and small landing craft were
having a bad time. I was glad I was on a bigger ship. It was rolling
badly enough. I could hear Navy ships bombarding the beaches. Allied
planes were all over the sky.
In the late afternoon, on D-Day,
we arrived off the beach, several hundred yards out. We were told
we would off-load onto Rhino barges (flat steel rafts with two Johnson
outboard motors on the back). The bow doors opened and the ramp
went down. I went down to the tank deck to go in on the first load.
I wanted to get on dry land. Trucks, jeeps, etc. drove slowly onto
the barge until it was full. Then men, including me, walked on,
filling the spaces between the vehicles. The barge started toward
the coast at about two miles an hour. I was talking to a Navy man
operating one outboard. The beach didn't look as bad as others farther
down the coast. I didn't know whether that was good or bad, but
it didn't make any difference. Halfway there, word came over the
radio to return to the LST. I felt really bad about that. We returned
and reloaded. I was completely disgusted by now. The LST went back
out and moved down the beach to where we were supposed to be. This
time we drove right up onto the beach, the doors were opened, and
we walked off.
The only fire was artillery and our own Navy firing over our heads.
By then the beachhead was a mile deep and about three miles wide.
The beach was a mess; junk was all over the place. Our wounded,
along with German prisoners, were coming onto the beach to be loaded
onto empty ships for the trip back to England. I was envious. The
dead were being gathered and buried. We had a gas scare. Burial
details were wearing gas masks because of the smell. Someone gave
the gas alarm, but after an hour or so, someone found out what was
really going on and gave the all clear.
I found my exit from the beach
and waited in a concrete bunker until one of the 215th trucks came
off the landing craft, and I got on when he came up the exit. The
driver and I took off up the road we thought was the right one until
we found St. Laurent sur Mere. We found our assembly area without
too much trouble. We were the only ones in my section to find it
that night. The next morning, Lieutenant Plum and two men showed
up; they had spent the night lost on the road. The other 20 straggled
in during the day. Everybody was sure happy to be together again.
The next day after all our people had assembled, we took off for
our second assembly point near Longueville and Formigny. We were
to stay here until the beachhead was expanded. This took a few weeks,
but I don't know how long exactly. We lost all track of time. All
of the Signal Corp. equipment coming onto Omaha Beach was brought
to us for sorting and issuing to the First Army troops in our area.
We also did some installation, operation, and repair wherever anyone
needed us. We also did some miscellaneous Infantry, Engineering,
and anything else we were asked to do: we helped engineers with
de-mining, we cleared and searched houses, etc. Everything stopped
at dark. We crawled into our fox holes until daybreak. Just as everyone
got to sleep at about 11 p.m., Bed Check Charlie, a German plane,
came over, and all the anti-aircraft guns opened up on him. Of course
it woke everyone up. He flew around awhile, then dropped a bomb
and left for home. At about 5 a.m., another one came over and woke
everyone up. After a few days we got used to it and slept right
Toward the end of July (I didn't really know one day from another),
the First Army made a breakthrough at St. Lo preceded by a tremendous
bombing attack. I never saw so many planes in the sky in my life.
Thousands. We heard them coming in over the Channel from a long
way away. The ground was shaking from the vibration. It was very
scary, even to us. I began to feel sorry for the Germans, if you
can imagine that. I heard others say the same thing. It must have
scared the very hell out of them. Many bombs fell short and killed
a lot of Americans, including General Leslie McNair, who was President
Roosevelt's personal aide. One Division had to be pulled out of
the line and replaced.
The breakthrough was made and
the race was on. After the British and Americans surrounded and
destroyed one German army, the Germans retreated very fast all the
way through northern France, Belgium, and into Germany. I don't
remember much about it, it went so fast. We went through St. Samson,
Corville, Chartres. I don't even remember crossing the Seine River,
but we had to have. We went through Belgium to Verviers and stayed
there. The whole army ran out of supplies and had to stop until
they could catch up. We moved on a little farther, near Aachen,
Germany, and stayed there until December.
Sometime in November, everyone
got word from Intelligence that something was happening on the German
side, but they weren't sure what. They wanted to alert everyone.
We found out later what it was, but by the time it happened on December
16, everyone had forgotten. That's when the Battle of the Bulge
We were a little way southeast of Aachen, Germany when it started.
It was evening before we knew much at all, and days until it was
known what was really going on. By then there were troops going
in every direction and rumors flying all over. We had paratroop
scares. We were bombed not only by the Germans but also by our own
P-38 Lightnings by mistake. We were moved several times, guarding
crossroads, railheads, etc. It was all very confusing and scary,
and I couldn't give a day-by-day account. Sometime in January 1945,
things were stabilized and the German attack was stopped and slowly
driven back. There were heavy casualties on both sides. The German
SS murdered many American prisoners.
When things quieted down again
in the spring, we went back to Rioux, Belgium for a couple weeks.
We were billeted with the civilians there. They felt they couldn't
do enough for us; they didn't have much, but they tried to give
us everything, including their food. When we left, we collected
all the rations we could and gave it all to them just as we were
leaving. Otherwise they would have cooked it up and fed us with
it. I never saw better people than the British and the Belgians.
We moved back up to Verviers, Belgium and on towards the German
border. As the Germans moved back into Germany, they weren't able
to blow up the bridge at Remagen, and it was captured by American
troops. The First Army got across, and the bridge stayed up for
about 10 days. A day or so after we crossed, the thing collapsed,
but by that time the engineers had other bridges built, so it made
no difference except to the people who were on it when it fell into
After that it was a rat race, the Allies chasing the Germans. They
were surrendering by the thousands. They walked toward the rear
and didn't need any guards; they were happy to be out of it and
prisoners of the Americans, who treated them better than the Russians
We moved up to Marburg for a couple days, then Warburg, Nordhausen,
Weimar, Jena, and on toward Leipzig when we heard the war in Europe
was over. I don't remember how or when we got the word. I didn't
know the date until later, and then we got it wrong. No celebration.
Nothing. The war just petered out. It was very odd.
We moved back to Jena for a month or so. All this timing is hard
to remember; we were lucky to know what month it was. After a couple
weeks we heard that Jena was to be in the Russian zone. A few Russian
troops showed up. They were friendly, but they wanted us out. They
were told we didn't leave until we got orders. They left us alone
About June we moved back to Marburg.
This was the first time we saw the rest of our company since we'd
left England a year before. There were some problems over the decorations
Section 3 and my Section 1 had won. The Company commander wanted
the entire company to share. The First Army said no. There was much
jealousy, but we didn't give a damn. In July the entire company
was moved by convoy back to Cherbourg, France. We were there two
days when my Section 1 was transferred all the way back to Weisbaden,
Germany. Two long truck rides in a week's time. That's the Army:
dumb. We could have just stayed up there in the first place.
We were transferred to the 3187 Signal Service Battalion who had
just come over. We were the highest point people in the company
and were transferred so we would get home quicker. The 3187th didn't
take too kindly to us when they found out, but we should worry!
They didn't lean on us.
In September my orders came through. I was one of the first to go.
When it came to leaving, I hated to leave all the guys I had been
with so long, but I was glad to be going home. It was like leaving
the security of the Army for the unknown. I went to a marshalling
area outside Paris, and in October I went to Camp Twenty Grand near
Le Harve, France.
About the third week in October, we loaded onto the SS Sea Pike,
a nice, small diesel motor ship, and left France for home. It took
11 days. We landed in New York, and I went by train to Camp Kilmer,
New Jersey. I was there a couple days and then left for Camp Grant,
Illinois. I was processed and got my discharge on November 5, 1945.
I felt lost. I got back to Waukegan the same day: 3 years and 4
months after I had left.