W. D. (Woodrow Dunleavy) Johnson (b. 1917) was drafted into the Army after being rejected for officer commissions with both the Army and Navy. He was called to active duty on April 5, 1943, and after taking an I.Q. test at Fort Dix, N.J., Johnson was admitted to the Signal Corps training school and sent to Camp Crowder, Mo. Johnson handled army rules and regulations well: "Those of us who obey orders suffer a little along with the bad," he wrote, "but the non-cooperating guys are literally kicked into line by the regular guys so I have no fear of the future."
Johnson's wife Jane remained in Brooklyn, and after his departure, she found work at the Katharine Gibbs School. Her job initially entailed secretarial duties, but she soon became the recruitment coordinator, interviewing potential candidates and businesses. Jane led an active social life in Johnson's absence, attending dinners, parties, and movies, and visiting with other friends separated from their spouses. Jane's family was another important source of support and comfort; Jane ate dinner with her family once a week.
Johnson stayed at Camp Crowder, Mo. until September when he traveled back to New York for additional training. He saw his wife infrequently during the month he was in the New York city area, and by November 6, Johnson was on ship bound for England and assignment to the 143rd Armored Signal Co. of the 3rd Armored Division. Billeted in Cucklington, England, Johnson found the conditions surprisingly comfortable: "No tent stuff but warm, comfortable, permanent type barracks -- we even eat from plates." Johnson was even able to travel to London to take courses and enjoy a brief furlough, and only shelling from the Luftwaffe dampened spirits.
Shortly after D-Day in mid-June 1944, however, the 3rd Armored Division left England for Cherbourg, France. Joining with troops who had survived the invasion of Normandy, they concentrated their forces to push the Germans out of northeastern France and soon found themselves in the midst of intense fighting. At Ariel, "a hard fighting town shelled to rubble," Johnson saw his first dead American. Johnson's duties in the Signal Corps involved moving ahead of the division to lay wire for communications, an uncertain and dangerous task. "Once laid wire down a freshly taken road. [D]idn't know if it had been cleared of mines; wasn't even sure it was the right road." The next day he learned that the 300 Germans had come within 200 yards of him. "If I'd known that," he said, "I don't know whether duty would've come first."
As the Division moved slowly toward Belgium, they met resistance from the Germans at every turn. At the Battle of Mons in Belgium, Johnson reported that Germans were beginning to surrender en masse: "A captain came out and offered to lead 120 Jerry soldiers and tell them to surrender. We accepted -- 580 came out." They drove into Germany in September 1944, and billeted in Stolberg for almost a month. There, Johnson grew discontented with the decisions made by the commanding officers:
Altogether sincere in saying that the stage was set in September...to carry thru to Koln and perhaps to Berlin too but we chose to sit in Stolberg and make costly and desultory small-scale offensives... [I] often think that we are winning the war despite ourselves.
At home, Jane's new job responsibilities brought her into contact with a supervisor and colleague whom she did not like. She tried to work out differences peacefully but still felt that she ended up doing more work than they, adding to the difficulty she felt in the need to balance her work and keeping house: "Sometimes I wonder whether I'm doing a good job of housekeeping, and whether it will be the way you'd like to find it when you return. I know it's not a perfect job, but I excuse it by saying that you can't hold down two jobs and do them both perfectly." Jane felt obligated to spend time with both her own family and Johnson's. To help ease the situation, Jane's mother suggested she move home until the war ended "to save money." However Jane wanted to maintain her independence and refused.
The effects of rationing were painfully evident during the holidays. "Turkeys were very scarce this year. You could get them through black markets at about $1 a pound, and some few people were able to get them at a legitimate price..." Cigarettes and sugar were scarce as well. Jane regretted that butter, milk, and eggs were considered part of the meat ration. Her neighbor down the hall often procured meat for her because she had a butcher who would sell her extra. The black market flourished.
While billeted in Stolberg, Germany, Johnson also complained of shortages: "Certain war correspondents has said the shell shortage is not due so much to the lack of production as failure to foresee the tremendous need--whatever the cause we need stuff--now!" He mentioned that work strikes by war plant workers made him furious because the soldiers suffered from the shortage of ammunitions.
On December 16, 1944, the Germans mustered their forces for a last major offensive in the Ardennes. On Christmas day, just five kilometers from the front, Johnson wrote his wife to tell her that he had saved her packages to open on Christmas, although in reality, he had already opened them fearing that he would not live until Christmas. Johnson survived the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Bronze Star in the process.
Johnson's company liberated Nordhausen, one of the concentration camps in Germany in early April 1945, near the end of the war. He was horrified by the sight: "Nearly 500 foreign slave laborers were lying in filth nearly dead from starvation in town." What he saw in Germany piqued his hatred of the German civilians, and he complained of a "feeling of disgust" when seeing German civilians: "They collect pictures of Hitler and the Luftwaffe. When they cry now that such and such is a hardship, I feel like telling them to write a letter to Hitler."
With the war in Europe ended in May, 1945, Johnson desperately longed to return home, but did not have enough points to do so. He remained in Germany through the summer and fall, billeted in Egelsbach, where he set up a beer hall for officers and enlisted men, and where they even served lunch. Due in part to his Bronze Star, Johnson was promoted to Master Sergeant before boarding the Montclair Victory Ship on October 19 1945, bound for the States.
Upon learning that the war was over, Johnson told his wife to quit her job immediately, reasoning that he would be able to stay at the job he had left working for a textile company. The couple wanted to start a family as soon as possible.