Donald D. Johnson
Donald D. Johnson grew up in Colorado during the Great Depression. He joined the United States Marines in 1946 to later benefit from the G.I. Bill. After first serving as Naval Intelligence in Honolulu, Hawaii, he returned to Colorado to attend college. He enrolled at the University of Denver in 1948 to pursue law school. During this time, he met his future wife. To earn extra money to save up for their marriage, he reenlisted in the Inactive Reserve. However, the Korean War broke out, and the reserve became active, activating his call to service in Korea. He was involved in many of the early battle campaigns of the Korean War.
Leaving Your Wife Behind
Donald D. Johnson describes being called back in September 1950 to serve in the Korean War. He mentions the battles in which he fought and his reasons for joining the Inactive Reserves. He elaborates on the emotional toll of leaving his wife behind.
No Idea What I'm Doing
Donald D. Johnson elaborates on his job responsibilities in Korea. He had no idea initially how to handle the artillery. He describes having to organize all the vehicles inside the LST, learning as the war continued. He describes becoming First Lieutenant Parrot's personal Jeep driver.
Miscommunication With The Air Force
Donald D. Johnson recalls landing at Inchon in 1950 at night. He remembers it being hard to drive through the warfare. He elaborates on how miscommunication with the Air Force caused this incident to occur.
Almost Prisoner of War
Donald D. Johnson elaborates on his job responsibilities as the Lieutenant's Jeep driver. Three times a week he had to drive to the Division Headquarters to pick up new maps. New maps were made using aerial views of Korea to assist in artillery attacks. He describes the commute he had to take when driving through the roads of the Chosin Reservoir and how cold he found it. He recalls an incident where, by chance, he missed becoming a Prisoner of War.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
00:00:00 Donald D Johnson: My name is Donald D Johnson. J-O-H-N-S-O-N. Donald. D-O-N-A-L-D.
Interviewer: And it’s a famous movie star there right?
Donald D Johnson: [Laughs] I guess not, no.
Interviewer: Not related to him
Donald D Johnson: No.
Interviewer: Ok, what is your birthday?
Donald D Johnson: 12, uh 4/29/28
Donald D Johnson: 4/29/28
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Donald D Johnson: Denver, Colorado.
Interviewer: So you still live there?
Donald D Johnson: Yes we do.
Interviewer: Wow, and that’s the year – one year before the Great Depression
00:00:39 Donald D Johnson: Yes, I grew up basically during the Depression.
Interviewer: How was it?
Donald D Johnson: It was, well it was terrib- Well, we didn’t know any better you know, because we were young. But we had very little. Most of the people around us, the people we knew, had very very little and it was tough, you know. But we didn’t realize it was tough because we grew up that way.
Interviewer: That way, right?
Donald D Johnson: Sure.
00:01:06 Interviewer: You are the last leg of the great generation, so-called. and they went through all these difficult times. World War Two, the Korean War. You survived. You are the generation of America, early twentieth century, right?
Donald D Johnson: Well I don’t know about that, you know. But we did our job, because that
was our job to do, you know.
Interviewer: Tell me about your family, parents and the siblings when you were growing up.
00:01:36 Donald D Johnson: Well, I have one brother who’s a year older than me, and my mother and my mother and father were divorced when I was probably, oh, I guess six or eight years old, something like that. And so life was kind of tough for us to get along, but my uncle, my dad’s brother lived with us. And he was a great guy and he stayed with us, oh, until he we had to put him in a home, a veteran’s home later on. But he was a good man and he helped take care of us.
Interviewer: What’s his name?
Donald D Johnson: His name was Millard, he was a nice guy. He had been in World War One, as was my father.
Interviewer: So tell me when you graduated schools.
Donald D Johnson: I graduated from high school in 1946. And that was in June. And in September I joined the Marine Corps.
Interviewer: And what is the name of the school?
Donald D Johnson: It was the University of Denver. Oh no no no no.
Interviewer: High school.
Donald D Johnson: High school was South High School in Denver. Now there are several high schools, you know.
Interviewer: Right. You enlisted, right?
Donald D Johnson: Yes I did.
Interviewer: Where did you go get the basic?
Donald D Johnson: Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Interviewer: San Diego, right here!
Donald D Johnson: Yeah yeah. We’ll be going back there tomorrow to take a look at it. That’ll be interesting. But when I came here they had [Quonset]. There were a number of [Quonset] huts and that’s where we were. We were in a [Quonset] hut, half of one, you know. So now, you know, I don’t think they have them anymore.
Interviewer: How was the basic military training here? Marine training is different, right?
Donald D Johnson: Well it was tough, but I had a great drill instructor and he was on Bataan when Bataan fell at the beginning of World War Two, you know. And he was captured. Well what he did was, you you don’t want to hear all this, but he went, he and four other guys watched the Bataan Death March from the top of coconut palms, I guess. And then they went down and they swam from Bataan to Corregidor. And I don’t know how far that is but I think is it quite a ways. And the five of them made, it all five made it. Well, they helped one another. They made it over there and they got food and then sat down on the beach and waited for the Japanese to come because they knew they were coming. And so they sat there and waited for them, and then they did all they could, you know, to fight. But then they just overran them. They just, you know, there was just so many. And they took them prisoner, and so he was a prisoner of war for three years.
Interviewer: Wow, so you got the very good training from him.
Donald D Johnson: Oh yeah, he was good and he was tough. I mean he’d put up with any garbage at all, boy. You better be good. And when you got out of there you were prepared. He was great.
Interviewer: So where did you go from the basic military?
Donald D Johnson: Then they sent me to Honolulu. Oh man, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I went to the Marine Barracks at Pearl Harbor. And I was only there about I guess three, four weeks and we went out one morning for roll call and they said, “Johnson, you report to the Sergeant Major’s office at the end of roll call.” And I thought, oh my God what have I done now? Nobody went to the Sergeant Majors office, right. So I went in there and they said “you’re being transferred.” I said “great, why?” He said, “you’re going to go to Naval Intelligence, Downtown Honolulu. That’s where I went. And I spent all the rest of my tour down at Naval. Oh, it was g reat. At Naval Intelligence I got to work on cases. It’s really great. Wore civilian clothes all the time.
Interviewer: Why you were picked up?
Donald D Johnson: I don’t know. Why did they pick me?
Donald D Johnson: I have no idea
Interviewer: So you were in the downtown of Honolulu.
Donald D Johnson: Oh yeah.
Interviewer: I’ve been there several times.
Donald D Johnson: You know, it’s right across – it was right across the street from the Coast Guard place, you know, right down there. I can’t even remember the street names or anything anymore. We lived with the shore Patrol. Now there were three Marines and 55 sailors so you can imagine, you know. [Laughs.] Oh yeah, they tried to give us a hard time. But you know, they were really good to us and we lived there, we had a great time, and it was good duty.
Interviewer: So you were there until the breakout of the Korean War?
Donald D Johnson: No no no. No no. I was there just, I was just there for two years. I got out in 1948, and I came home and started school. I had the GI Bill and started school at the University of Denver. I was going to go to law school and when I got the GI Bill they said, “yeah you can go to law school if you like.” So I thought, well, maybe I’ll do that. I was in there a couple of years, and I thought, I don’t think I want to be a lawyer. I just don’t think I like that. So I did, I changed majors. Then I taught school for a little while, for five years. Then they sent me, I went downtown on duty, to the administration building and they said, “we’re gonna send you over to Channel six.” It’s the public television station in Denver. And the school district owned it. But as that was true of most public television stations in America, they were owned by universities or school districts. That’s how they were formed, started. So I was sent over there.
Interviewer: When was it?
Donald D Johnson: this was in, let’s see, about 1950, God, if I could only remember. It was 1950- something, I guess. I went over to, I was there for a long time. In fact, I was there for some 30 years and I ended up running the place after quite a while. so then I retired in 93
Interviwer: So then, were you in Korea?
Donald D Johnson: Was I in Korea? Oh yeah.
Interviewer: When was it?
Donald D Johnson: I went to Korea in 19 – let’s see, when did I join? I got called back in, well let’s see, I finished [unintelligible] I went to Korea. I made the Incheon invasion in September of 1950. I was over there in 1950.
Interviewer: You told me that you came back from Honolulu in 1948.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah
Interviewer: And then you went to the University.
00:08:53 Donald D Johnson: Yes and then I got called back in for the Korean War and I got called back in, so I guess that was in September of 1950 and then we made the Incheon invasion and the liberation of Seoul and then we went back around and landed at Wonsan and then worked our way all the way up to the Chosin Reservoir in 1950.
Interviewer: When you were called up for the Korean War, what were you thinking? You were in the university, right?
00:09:26 Donald D Johnson: Yeah well I had been in the active reserve. Let me tell you that one. I was in the inactive reserve and I got engaged to my present wife of course, and I thought, I’ve got to get some money. How am I gonna marry this girl? So I thought, what I’ll do, I’ll transfer into the active reserve and I’ll go out on Sunday. I can march around looking wise like a tree full of owls. I can do that and make a little extra money. I did that in, I think it was June of 1950. I don’t think it was three or four weeks and we got called back to active duty.
Interviewer: What if you didn’t join the active reserve?
Donald D Johnson: Well, then they wouldn’t have called me up. I don’t think they called up all the inactive reserve. I don’t think they did. They called all the active reserve up.
Interviewer: So you were almost like a volunteer to be in the Korean War.
Donald D Johnson: Well, yeah almost, but not really.
Interviewer: Almost. Man, then it must be very difficult for your fiancee at the time.
Donald D Johnson: Well, she waited for me, though. I said, I’ll get back as soon as I can.
Interviewer: As in one piece.
Donald D Johnson: In one piece, I hope.
Interviewer: Must have been very hard for her.
Donald D Johnson: Well I think it was, but she waited for me. And she was young. And she was at home, stayed at home and when I got out I got back. So it wasn’t that bad.
Interviewer: What was your rank when you joined again? When you were called up.
Donald D Johnson: I was a corporal
Donald D Johnson: Mm-hmm
Interviewer: And what was the unit?
Donald D Johnson: I was in King battery 4th battalion 11th Marine
Donald D Johnson: King. K battery. 4th battalion BN. 11th Marines. That’s artillery. And I was in a hundred and fifty five millimeter howitzers.
Interviewer: Did you learn about this artillery?
00:11:38 Donald D Johnson: No. I got called up. I went in there. In fact, I got in there it was amazing, the speed at which we went over there to get into Incheon. We got to Japan and I was in this battery I didn’t even have any idea what I was going to do. And the executive officer said to me, “Johnson, come here.” He said, “you come up here.” So he took me upstairs into this building, great big building, office building in Japan. Nobody in this, and there were drawing tables, draftsman tables. Must have been a hundred of them in this great big room. And he said, “sit down here,” and said, “here’s a list of all the vehicles, everything.” And he said, “make up how all these vehicles are going to be placed on it, remembering one thing. First on is last off when you get on an LST and we’re gonna go, this is gonna be the landing barge we’re gonna take to Korea.” I said, “you got to be kidding.” I said I don’t know anything about all this. He said, “Johnson, do it.” So I did.
Interviewer: How did you do it?
00:12:58 Donald D Johnson: Well, I sat down and I had, I knew how much each vehicle weighed, they gave me all these particulars, how long they were, and so I fitted them all into this LST and made sure that the first arms are last off and all that. I sat up there, I think two days and I got it done. And that’s how we loaded them. And then I found out, he says, “Well Johnson, you’re going to be my driver.” I said, “I am?” He said yes.
Interviewer: Who was that?
00:13:32 Donald D Johnson: It was lieutenant [Parret].
00:13:35 Donald D Johnson: Yeah. He was a first lieutenant. Lieutenant [Parret]. And he said, “Johnson, you’re gonna be my driver.” And I said, “Oh my God. That’s the first vehicle. Like, that’s the first one to come off of the LST.” He said, ‘yeah it’s yours.”
Interviewer: [Laughs] So the last one that you put into the LST.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah, the last one went in, I was the first one off. But we landed, and it was quick. They’re flat bottomed. And we were riding through a storm and those things, it’s just like that [gestures with hands to show the rocking motion]. And we put cables to hold those big guns down because they’re heavy, and even snapped a couple of those cables. And there’s not much you can do about. So that’s how we went.
Interviewer: How was Incheon when you landed? You landed on September 15th or 16th.
00:14:38 Donald D Johnson: No we landed the night, yeah the first day. We landed on Wolmido, which was the island. And there’s a causeway on the other side of the island that that went to the mainland. The problem was our Air Force came over, right? They’re gonna soften them up for us. So what are they doing? They’re dropping these bombs and stuff down in there and they knock big holes in this causeway and we had to try to go across that. Well, it was pitch dark, and dark there is dark. It’s not like here. There’s no reflected light from the city, you know. And it was really dark. And we had – I had to have people walk on the front of the Jeep, and walk so we could not drive through a hole where the Air Force had made a few holes in there. But we made it across.
Interviewer: Was there any resistance?
Donald D Johnson: No, when we went across the causeway there was none.
Interviewer: And then you went to where? Seoul?
Donald D Johnson: Well we finally, well yeah, the next day. We went on up to Seoul and liberated soul and up to the 38th parallel.
Interviewer: Oh, you went from Seoul to 38th parallel?
Donald D Johnson: Kept going. Pushing.
Interviewer: Many of them went back to Incheon and took the ship to Wonsan.
Donald D Johnson: Correct
Interviewer: But you directly go from Seoul to 38th parallel.
Donald D Johnson: Well we went- sure, sure. When we made the Incheon invasion we went up, liberated Seoul and went right up to the 38th parallel. When we came back to Incheon.
Interviewer: Oh you came back to Incheon again.
00:16:22: Donald D Johnson: Yeah because they were trying to figure out what in the world they were gonna do, you know. They couldn’t figure out what they were gonna do. Finally, so we came back to Incheon. Then we loaded up all this stuff that had to be loaded aboard ship again. We went all the way back around Korea and landed at Wonsan.
Interviewer: When was it? November?
00:16:42 Donald D Johnson: Yeah it had to be late November, I think. But there was no problem there for us just to get into the harbor. The big problem was, which we were going up, that the North Koreans were up in Vladivostok there in Russia and they were pushing out all those mines, free floating mines. And they came down
Interviewer: To Wonsan, yes.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah, and so we couldn’t even go in until they could get those mines exploded in there. Then we finally did. And then from there we went on up to the Chosin. About 78 miles as I recall. It’s a long way.
Interviewer: You were still driving the Jeep? For the lieutenant?
Donald D Johnson: Yup.
Interviewer: Okay, so in some sense it was not like, foot soldiers, but at the same time it was cold.
Donald D Johnson: Oh yeah, it was cold. It was very cold. But you know what? My job, I had to go down almost, oh, about three times a week. I had to go all the way back down to division, wherever division was set up.
Interviewer: Where was it?
00:17:59 Donald D Johnson: Well it was, they set it up down there in Hamhung, and then I had to go back, always had to go down there and get new maps. Because they said that the maps that the Japanese had made, I think they were the maps that the Japanese had made, were not very accurate. So they would fly over the top of us with Piper Cubs and they’re taking all these, you can see him going like this, taking pictures. And then they would go and develop those pictures at night and then they would label all the hills and stuff and make maps for the artillery. So we could find out, well we had to know where we’re gonna shoot, you know. From here to there. So we had to know.
Interviewer: So you had to commute from where you were up there in north and to Hamhung.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah, I would drive all the way down not get the maps and mail and all the other stuff, then I’d go back up. And it usually, I was in that Jeep most of the time. It took a long time.
Interviewer: By yourself?
00:19:11 Donald D Johnson: Yes, I could have had a shotgun rider, but I knew when I was there, because we had this happen a lot, they killed the driver. And you’re going up that mountain, I mean this mountain is not, that dirt road is not very wide. If you’re going up there and they, and they somebody shoots you, you’re gonna go right off the side of that and the guy that’s sitting with you is gonna die. So what are you gonna do? I said, I’m not gonna do that. I
said I’d get along without him.
Interviewer: So by yourself.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah.
Interviewer: Describe – where were you up there?
Donald D Johnson: Well, that at the Chosin? All the way up to Yudam-Ni.
Interviewer: You were at the Yudam-Ni too?
Donald D Johnson: Yeah
Interviewer: So you went up to Sinhung-ni, Koto-ri, Hagaru-ri.
Donald D Johnson: [Nodding head]. Hagaruri. Andup to the Yudam-Ni.
Interviewer: Please describe the road from Hamhung to Koto-ri, and from Kotori to Hagaru-ri, Hagaru-ri to Yudam-Ni. How was it?
00:20:03 Donald D Johnson: It’s just a dirt road. It’s rough, dirt road. It’d just been carved out of the side of those hills, that’s what it was. And it was, it was rough road, and you had to be careful. In fact it wasn’t any wider, I’m trying to think, you could pass, I could pass a six by truck. Boy, but I mean you better go slow and carefully because there was nothing there in that road. You just go and you go down 500 foot before you ever hit.
Interviewer: Must be very dangerous.
Donald D Johnson: Oh, terribly dangerous.
Interviewer: Did you encounter any Chinese?
Donald D Johnson: Not on the road
Interviewer: Not on the road.
Donald D Johnson: No I didn’t. I encountered a few North Koreans. I had to, you know, work on em a couple. But I what I did was I took the windshield and laid the windshield down. So that I didn’t want somebody shooting through that windshield and have a face full of glass, you know. But boy, it made it cold, and it was getting colder and colder and colder. And the further up you get the colder it was. It’s really cold up north!
Interviewer: Tell me, how cold was it. How would you describe it?
Donald D Johnson: It was between 35 and 40 below zero.
Interviewer: Yeah I know about that, objectively, the degree. I want you to describe your personal [laughs]
00:21:20 Donald D Johnson: Well, I’ll tell you what, I tried to keep my face covered as much as I possibly could, because it was so cold in that cold wind. And, you know, it’s the damnedest thing up there. The snow doesn’t come down like it does here in Colorado, you know, filtered. It comes sideways and it’s blowing hard. When we were up on those mountains up at the
Yudam-Ni, that snow would blow sideways, and you could just see it piling up. And I’d lean on my left side to keep my rifle here. I had an M1 rifle and you had to move the operating handle every ten minutes.
Interviewer: The gear
Donald D Johnson: Or it would freeze, yeah. Couldn’t afford that.
Interviewer: You have a heater inside?
Donald D Johnson: Inside what?
Interviewer: The Jeep.
Donald D Johnson: No
Interviewer: No heater?
00:22:11 Donald D Johnson: No. No heater. I didn’t, I had the top off of it. It was open. It was cold. But once I got up there, then what happened was after I got up there and we’re setting up the guns because then the Chinese were coming into the war, so we’re setting up. Setting up one gun and we had 20 rounds of ammo with us, and so my battery commander says, Lieutenant Messman, says, “Johnson, I’m going to take your Jeep and I’m going to go down and find the ammo trucks.” Well I wasn’t too smart I said to him, “where the hell do you think they’re gonna go. There’s only one road.” Oh, that wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. Anyway, he took my Jeep and went down. And then he decided, they found, the ammo trucks were just getting loaded and trying to come up. That ammo, you know, for a hundred and fifty five holitzer, those shells weigh a hundred pounds apiece. They’re extremely heavy and they’re bulky. Anyway, he was gonna go down and get them. Well we never saw him again. He got captured, spent three years in a prisoner of war camp.
Interviewer: What was his name?
Donald D Johnson: His name was Messman. Lieutenant Messman. And he got out. He lived. He got out. I have never seen him since.
Interviewer: Did you know anything about Korea before? I mean, during your high school, or
00:23:49 Donald D Johnson: Nope. Not a thing. In fact I kept saying, “tell me about Korea.” Nobody knew anything about Korea. I said, “what is Korea like?” Nobody knew. I said, “well now, tell me, where is it? I don’t even know where Korea is let alone what it’s like.” So I never did know till we got there.
Interviewer: November 27 and 28, that’s when the Chinese began to attack. Where were you?
Donald D Johnson: Up at Yudam-Ni.
Interviewer: Yudam-Ni? You were at Yudam-Ni.
00:24:22 Donald D Johnson: I was on a mountain, waiting for them go come in.We could see across. It was amazing. I’m trying to remember. There was a saddle. There’s hills and then there was kind of a saddle. And these Chinese were coming through this. They look like ants coming through there. Thousands and thousands of them coming through, just like crawling through there. And we looked across and I said, my God. We fired 20 rounds of ammo, it’s all we had. Twenty rounds of 155 millimeter ammo. Didn’t even make a dent. They just kept right on coming.
Interviewer: So what happened?
00:25:04 So we towed the gun up onto the road, hooked it onto a PD 18 tractor and left it up on the road, and everybody went infantry. So we all just got our rifles and got as much ammo as we could. Because one of the problems was, it was after we’d had a little fight with them for a while, we’re running short of ammo. And so they called, they talked to them, pilots, and said we got to have ammo. So they brought in ammo and dropped it. And the problem was, they’d come in come in with those flying boxcars
Interviewer: And they’re all broken
00:25:40 Donald D Johnson: Yeah, and they come down low and then drop it. And when they come down low like that they kicked those pallets out for the back end of that thing. And they’re on plywood. And I’m telling you that they were more dangerous than anything else. Those plywood sheets going through the air like this. Where are you gonna go to get out of the road? And when they’d hit they’d explode, those plywood sheets. So we got our ammo and that helped us. We were able to handle it because, I can’t even tell you how many Chinese we killed. I’m trying to remember. I thought, the Chinese sent 125,000 down across the border. And somehow I thought that they lost about eighty four thousand. Am I right?
Interviewer: Yeah the 9th Chinese army almost destroyed.
Donald D Johnson: Terrible
Interviewer: Terrible. But at the same time there are
Donald D Johnson: What could you do?
Interviewer: I mean 3600 deaths of US Marines too.
Donald D Johnson: Yeah we lost a lot of men there. But you know, when you think of it
proportionately we didn’t lose as many. Proportionally, the Chinese did, which was amazing.
Interviewer: It’s amazing because the way that they attacked was so primitive, you know. They didn’t even have a weapons at the time.
Donald D Johnson: That’s right. Some of them. But you know what weapons they did have that were good? They had Thompson submachine guns that we had given to Chiang Kai-shek. And I think those guys were running away to get the hell out of there.
Interviewer: No no no, the communist soldiers were actually fighting together with Chiang Kai Shek at the time when they have to fight the Japanese. So they had that weapons, yeah.
Donald D Johnson: Those Thompson’s were good weapons, boy.
Interviewer: So how close was it? How close?
00:27:37 Donald D Johnson: The Chinese?Well, we fixed bayonets at the top of the hills. We were there. The word came along the line, you know. Fix bayonets. God that scares the hell out of me. Fixing bayonets. I knew how to use a bayonet and I had a great drill instructor that showed us how to do it. But I’ll tell you what. That scares you. So anyway that’s what we did. And I took, I left that bayonet on that rifle all the rest of the time I was there.
Interviewer: But you didn’t have to have hand-on-hand.
00:28:14 Donald D Johnson: No. Because you know what? I made sure I had plenty of ammo. Some of the guys had to have hand-to-hand because, you know, you got to keep – and another thing was to try to keep the ammo dry because it was snowing sideways.
Interviewer: Did you think that you could survive at the time?
Donald D Johnson: I wasn’t sure
Interviewer: Were you afraid?
Donald D Johnson: Sure I was afraid.
Interviewer: What were you thinking when you saw so many Chinese crawling up?
00:28:42 Donald D Johnson: That, here they come, just like a sea of corn coming up that hill at you. I though oh my god, oh my God, we’re not gonna make it. But you know, we did. We just kept at. it I mean I can’t tell you how many Chinese were killed. It’s sad, really sad when you think about it.
Interviewer: That war hasn’t ended yet. Do you know the South China Sea territorial dispute right now?
Donald D Johnson: They’re still having at it aren’t they?
Interviewer: China is still challenging the United States and the US is very sensitive about this now. It’s very heightened. That’s why I’m telling you and all the people that the Korean War was not just between South and North. It was between US and China. Most of the interviews that I’ve had, veterans telling me that they never fight against North Koreans. They’re always fighting against Chinese. And that war hasn’t ended yet.
00:29:42 Donald D Johnson: Do you know too, what would bother me a lot but I think about a lot. When we came out and we’re going, pulling out to go back down to ammo, 78 miles down that road. Do you know that we brought out with us 90,000 refugees? And you know, I keep saying, that still bothers me. We had, not one kid did I see cry. Not one. Now if those had been Americans, they’d been bawling their eyes out. But not one kid cried, and they were walking along the road holding on to their mother’s hand. It was amazing to me.
Interviewer: Do you still remember that?
Donald D Johnson: Oh God, yeah. You bet. Yeah.
Interviewer: Did you regret to be there?
Donald D Johnson: No. It was my job. I was in the Marine Corps. and I was in the Marine Corps Reserve, right. That’s what you’re in for. You get called up, that’s what you do.
Interviewer: So you evacuated from Hamhung to Pusan?
00:30:57 Donald D Johnson: No. Hamhung down to, let’s see, where was it. We came back down to Wonsan I think in that area. Or [Hamhung or Hum Nam]. Yeah, down there. I went and I got cold and I was sent to a hospital tent. I had frostbite. I was getting this stuff down there cuz we had a whole bunch of junk and I’m trying to pick it up. And two MPs came to me and said, “your name Johnson?” I said, “yeah, why? What do you want?” He said, “come with us” and I said, “go to hell, I’m no going with you.” He said, “yes you are.” He said, “you’re going over here to the hospital tent.” Well what happened was I was bent over. I had an infection in my feet from the frostbite, went up into my groin, and I was just bent like this. I went over there and this doctor said, “take your pants down.” Which pair? You know I only had about three or four pair of pants. So he said, “all right, put em up, sit on the bed. What?” He said, “just sit down and shut up. I don’t have time to talk to you.” Well he was right. He didn’t. So I sat down [unintelligible]. He said, put a tag on me and says, “you’re going to the hospital in Japan.” That’s where I went.
Interviewer: So that’s where you ended your service in the Korean War.
Donald D Johnson: Well, no, except after I went to the hospital in Japan, when they got done there they sent me to Saigon Indochina. I went the American Legation in Saigon Indochina for a month.
Interviewer: Have you been back to Korea?
Donald D Johnson: Yes.
Donald D Johnson: I can’t remember when. I should have had all these down.
Donald D Johnson: I guess
Interviewer: How many years ago?
Donald D Johnson: Let’s see, I think, I retired in 93. I think we went back before that. We must have been back in ninety or something. We went back. I took my wife with me and we went. I said to her, “see that’s Wolmido.” Oh, I couldn’t believe what changes have been made. You know that causeway that we came across was just a disaster area. Now they have a highway that goes on. Boy, it’s beautiful. Of course they do good work, you know. They really do good work over there. So anyway we went. Got over there and got to see it, and it was great.
Interviewer: Been to Wolmido and any other areas? Seoul? You’ve been to Seoul?
Donald D Johnson: Yep, we went to Seoul.
Interviewer: In Seoul you saw
Donald D Johnson: Oh it’s huge, it’s just huge! Well we went to Seoul. It wasn’t that big, and there were some snipers up there in the buildings, and few buildings, but now it’s just huge!
Interviewer: Unbelievable, isn’t it?
00:34:16 Donald D Johnson: Well I couldn’t believe the difference. But I knew, listen, those Korean people know what the hell they’re doing. They know how to build and do stuff and they do it well. So it was great. We enjoyed it. I said to my wife, “well Joan, I can’t explain to you what this was like when I drove through this town and I went around, ran over stuff. It’s just a disaster area, and I said, “I can’t explain it to you because it’s there’s nothing here that was like it.” It’s so different. They have just rebuilt this whole place into a metropolis.
Interviewer: That is the legacy of your service.
Donald D Johnson: [Laughs.]I don’t know. I tell you, those people are just very, very, they’re so productive all the time. They just know how to do things. Something that has bothered me ever since is that 38th parallel there, I, I guess I just don’t trust the Communist things up there. I’m really concerned about it, that one of these days they’re gonna try to do the same thing again that was done in 50. And that really did bother me. And you know what? When we came out we brought 90,000 refugees with us, and those people are all over America. And they’re just great. They’ve assimilated themselves in with a population, and they’re just doing great. I thought, 90,000! Can you believe that? They put them on every ship they could get them on. Which was good.
Interviewer: But such a beautiful outcome came out of your service in Korea. Korea is now
democracy and economic power.
Donald D Johnson: I know it
Interviewer: But our history textbook doesn’t tell much about it.
00:36:13 Donald D Johnson: No they don’t. And you know what? I taught for four years in Denver. Nothing. There was nothing in the history books about Korea at all. Not a word. It was, I guess the thing, I thought I felt so sorry for the Korean people, and most of them that we took out were women and children. Then there were a few older men, but mostly women and children. And I thought, you know, I was just amazed at them. Now we’re talking about colder than hell up there. It was, it had to be 40 below zero, and they walked behind us when we had to fight our way out and they were behind us. Can you believe ninety thousand of them? Well you know what happened first, it really irks me. The Chinese kicked them out of their houses up there, their huts. So here they are with nothing. They never complained. We tried as much as we could to put them into the vehicles into the back of trucks, but we had to keep some of that for the wounded. Because as we got shot then we had to put him in the trucks. And it was amazing to me though that they ride on there, not a word out of them. Not a complaint. I said, gee. I told my wife, “you know if those had been Americans, it would’ve been a disaster area. But not the Koreans.
Interviewer: Dan, I want to thank you on behalf of the Korean nation for your service and it’s great to hear from you directly. This video will be uploaded into the internet so that everybody can listen to you. Thank you, sir.
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