"Time and Days Didn't Mean that Much to Us,"
Being Part of the March Across Europe
Interviewer: Rheba Massey
Johnson was born to a Nebraska farm family on October
1, 1919. He worked his way through Grand Island Business
College, attending classes during the months he was not
needed on the farm. He went into the service with the
first draft call out of Nebraska in February of l941. He
was with the 134th Infantry Regiment of the 35th Infantry
Division and was in Southampton, England, when the D-Day
invasion began. He recalls his first experience of war on
about July 8, landing on Omaha beach, despite torpedoes,
bombs and shelling in the canal as their PT boats
December 21, 1994
Johnson's first battle was in capturing the
town of St. Lo. His division helped take Hill 122,
considered a major battle, for which they received a
battalion presidential citation. The fighting was
difficult because the Germans were behind
"hedgerows," man-made barriers of concrete or
rocks built by the farmers to divide their fields. These
provided excellent cover in battle, especially for the
Germans who were in a defensive position. "It was
real slow moving. We would get through and put enough
fire power in there to move them back. Then we could
advance to the next hedgerow."
The weeks of marching through France and Germany,
capturing and liberating some 130 towns are hard to
recall. "We were on the move so much, in and out of
the lines, and communications were not all that great.
Time and days didn't mean that much to us because we just
couldn't keep up with it."
Although these troops were actually liberating the
towns, it was the supply divisions that came later that
received most of the cheering and the celebration gifts
of wine and food from those being liberated. Johnson
recalls mostly exhaustion. "Day and night and we
couldn't even light fires anytime. The good food we
had-we couldn't heat it. We couldn't light a fire and
heat and warm ourselves 'cause we couldn't have lights or
anything or you'd just be gone. And the nights - we moved
a lot at nights. It was a grueling experience, throwing
hand grenades, trying to knock out gun turrets and take
prisoners. But the hardest part was probably at night
when the German artillery would bomb. First, flares would
be dropped to light the way, and then the bombers would
come. They called this "Bed Check Charlie."
In December, Johnson was in the Battle of the Bulge.
"I think the big thing that bothered most of us was
that it was the dead of winter and was really cold. We
were outside for the most part . . . We had heavy coats
and heavy equipment . . . We had to clear the roads and
get the dead bodies out. They were just all frozen."
The bodies were of peasants and Jews. "We just
bulldozed them out of the way. There was nobody to take
care of them either or get them out. We were lucky to get
our own people out. . . You hardly knew it was Christmas
and didn't worry about it. . . you had more to think
about than Christmas."
When Johnson was asked if he worried about his
survival, he replied, "Never worried about it. . .
Had to do it. People in our time accepted it and just
tried to live through it to get the job done."
Johnson was near Berlin when the war ended. The
Americans freed prisoners along the way. Johnson recalled
one place that was especially moving where some Polish
and Jewish prisoners had been held. "They had run
these people into a large barn and set it on fire and
burned a lot of them to death. When we got there. . . We
set up a flogging line by using Nazi Germans and made
them carry all those bodies and bury them in a big common
He described the response of the German people to
being "liberated" as being positive. "They
were average people who were glad to see us . . . The
down-to-earth German people were super people. They were
caught in between everything and they couldn't do too
much 'cause if they did, they wouldn't be here either.
They'd just kill them."
He contrasted the Nazi and Allied treatment of
prisoners. "We always took good care of their
prisoners. I don't know of any case that we went out and
just killed their prisoners. In some cases when they took
us as prisoners, they'd just strip off our clothes and
equipment and just kill us."
Johnson did not enter Berlin as it was agreed the
Russians should liberate Berlin. He was just outside
Berlin when Victory in Europe was declared in May of
1945. He does not recall a big celebration. "We were
glad it was over."