The Johnson papers consist primarily of letters between W. D. Johnson and his wife, Jane, during the Second World War, but includes letters from family and friends as well. Johnson also kept a few miscellaneous issues of Stars and Stripes, a map of northeastern France, and a journal in which he wrote sporadically.
Both Johnson and his wife are keen and intelligent writers and observers. Their letters show the anxiety and concern for each other, but also give insight into the larger picture of the home front, the war, and family and friends.
This collection has two main points of interest. First is the home front, described eloquently by Jane. She went to work immediately after Johnson left for training in Missouri, and quickly found a reasonably well-paying job at the Katharine Gibbs School. Although her salary was far less than that earned by women working in the war plants, Jane still brought home $160 per week. Her letters are filled with discussion of the effects of rationing and the constant scramble to find consumer goods and foodstuffs. Her letters also suggest how women whose husbands or boyfriends had been sent overseas banded together to create tight-knit social circles.
The second area of interest is the war front. Johnson writes to his wife frequently, though he rarely speaks of the horrors of the front. Partly because the Army censored his outgoing mail, Johnson rarely mentioned specifics about military events, but his journal and manuscripts chronicle his experiences in France and Belgium, and provides some useful information on the battles he survived, including the Battle of the Bulge. The contrast between his letters to his wife and his journal makes an interesting and useful comparison.
Johnson's letters indicate a dislike of different nationalities, particularly detested the French: "Gee, I love the French. They're so lazy, so dirty, so unworthwhile, they whimper and whine." Elsewhere, he wrote "The French have thoroughly sacked the country, we're perfect gentlemen compared to the Russians and the French." After witnessing the atrocities at Nordhausen, he concluded that the Germans were completely unworthy of sympathy. Letters received from Johnson's friend, Lt. Col. J. B. Coolidge stationed in the Philippines, provide insightful commentary on racial perceptions of the Japanese and Koreans. "The Jap is not so much hated for what he does but he is despised as a human being. His own ruthlessness and his inhuman methods so that the passion has become an automatic reaction."
The W. D. Johnson collection also illustrates the attitudes of enlisted men toward officers. Johnson considered his officers among the worst pillagers in France and Germany, and opined that the "Army suffers inefficiency beyond imagination because it does not enjoy sufficient public sanction to go all the way with its measures -- must continuously compromise."