1st215th Signal Depot CompanySignal Corps

First Army
Johnson
Staff Sergeant William H. Johnson

Photo   Kathleen A. Johnson

The 215th Signal Depot Company, First Army, First Army Special Troops, Attached to 1st Engineer Special Brigade

by
Staff Sergeant William Hampton Johnson

Hometown:  Waukegan, Illinois.

1937

Age 18, joined the National Guard, serving from 1937 to 1940.  Went to Camp Grant (near Rockford, Illinois) each summer for two weeks and went on maneuvers.

1942

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 vehicles.

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.

1943

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.

England

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 out.

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 flat.

1944

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 marshaling 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).

D-Day Assault Landing & the Normandy Campaign

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 through.

Northern France Campaign

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, Chartes.  I don't even remember crossing the Seine River, but we had to have.

Rhineland Campaign

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.

Ardennes-Alsace Campaign (Battle of the Bulge)

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 broke out.

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.

1945


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.

Central Europe Campaign

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 the river.

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 did.

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.

Occupation Duty

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 then.

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.

Home

We were transferred to the 3187th 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 marshaling area outside Paris, and in October I went to Camp Twenty Grand near Le Havre, 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.
Uniform
Staff Sergeant William H. Johnson's discharge uniform.

Shoulder patch: 12th Army Group

Photo   Kathleen A. Johnson


Addendum

by Dolores M. Johnson, William's wife

A few days after D-Day and landing on Normandy Beach, William's group was dug in near a farm, close to where the American Cemetery is now.  A farmer's wife came out with a big platter covered with a silver-domed lid.  She spoke French and welcomed them, then handed the platter to William.  He placed it on the edge of his foxhole and told her he would return the platter to her later.  When she left, some of the other guys came around and took the cover off.  It was a rabbit that had been cooked intact, with head, feet, etc. still on.  It looked rare, so William put the cover back on, took it to Lt. Plum, and said that if anyone wanted it, they could have it--he didn't want any.  No one else did either, so Lt. Plum said to take it to the next field and bury it.  The next day William borrowed the jeep from Plum and took the platter back to the farmhouse.  He thanked her and said it was good.

The group was there for a week.  The following day the French farmer came riding over on a big Percheron draft horse, bringing with him a bag of bottles of Calvados (apple cider wine).  All the guys had some, but it burned all the way down.  William couldn't drink it; it was too bitter for him.

During the war, General Eisenhower told the troops that when they got into Germany, if the weather was bad, they could make the German civilians move out of their houses and buildings so the troops could sleep indoors.  In Marburg, Warburg, Nordhausen, Jena, and other places, William's group looked around as they drove into town, and chose a house.  William and Plum were the only ones in the group who could speak German, and they told the residents that they had to leave the house and could take what they needed with them.  They usually took furniture, clothes, and food.  They protested about having to leave, and one woman said, "You're just as bad as the Nazis."  William replied, "But we don't kill you."

Things were pretty quiet, and after they crossed the Rhine into Marburg, they left ten of the guys in a factory to stay under cover.  The other thirteen took over another house.  By then the war was winding down, and a supply truck came through with clean uniforms, Eisenhower jackets, etc.  William found an iron in the house and was pressing his uniform when Lt. Plum called him to help tell a German something.  When he got back to the iron, which he had put on a cement-like ashtray, it had burned a mark on the table.  He felt really bad about it and told the woman when they were leaving.  She was upset, but nothing could be done.

In Jena they stayed at a German Army barracks.  They all had showers and said everything was first class.  During the day they sat outside on the fence rail and German people passed by.  Some stopped and talked, and little kids always came by for Hershey bars.  One of the guys talked to a beautiful woman, who stopped everyday when she went by.  One day the guy gave the woman an Army blanket, which like all army blankets had a big "US" stamped in the middle of it.  A couple days later the woman came by wearing a jacket and skirt she had made from it.


William H. Johnson passed away in 2005 at 85 years old.


The Rest of His Life


Acknowledgement: Kathleen A. Johnson, William's daughter, shared the photo and the stories by her parents.


The 215th participated in the assault landing on  D-Day,  the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace (Battle of the Bulge), and Central Europe Campaigns and Occupation Duty.

The 215th was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation

Detachment 2 and Storage and Issue Section Detachment No. 3 were awarded the French Croix de Guerre for participation in the D-Day landing.

Source: Page 219,
Unit Citation and Campaign Participation Register.

Awards
Staff Sergeant William H. Johnson's medals, ribbons, dog tags, shoulder patches, and other items.

Shoulder patches: Left: 1st Army. Right 33rd Infantry Division.

Photo   Kathleen A. Johnson


Roster compiled by Kathleen A. Johnson

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INDEX: Cizewski, Lovetere, Musbach, & Robinson Family History

All material not in the public domain 2013 Leonard H. Cizewski & Kathleen A. Johnson

Last Updated: December 10, 2013
Posted: October 25, 2013
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