Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Woodrow D. Johnson Papers, 1914-1946

Finding aid created by
C. A. P., 1995

Summary Information
Title: Woodrow D. Johnson papers
Creator: Johnson, Woodrow D.
Inclusive dates: 1914-1946
Extent: 234 items
Abstract:
The Johnson collection consists 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. The collection provides perspectives on both the home front and the European war front.

Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1995. M-3200.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open to research.

Copyright:

Copyright status is unknown.

Preferred Citation:

Woodrow D. Johnson papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan


Biography

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.


Collection Scope and Content Note

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."

Subject Terms

    Subjects:
    • Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945.
    • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century.
    • Costume--20th century.
    • Dental care--20th century.
    • Dinners and dining--20th century.
    • Drill and minor tactics.
    • Germany--History--1945-1955.
    • House cleaning--20th century.
    • Katharine Gibbs Schools.
    • Lease and rental services--New York--20th century.
    • Railroad travel--20th century.
    • Rationing--20th century.
    • United States. Army. Armored Division, 3rd.
    • United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs.
    • United States. Army--Promotions.
    • United States. Army--Recruitment, enlistment, etc.--World War, 1939-1945.
    • Women--Employment--20th century.
    • World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns.
    Genre Terms:
    • Diaries.
    • Maps.
    • Photographs.
    Contents List
       Container / Location    Title
     
    Woodrow D. Johnson papers,  1914 February 18-1946 March 10 [series]:
    Box   1  
     1914-1943
    Box   2  
     1943-1949
    Box   3  
     1945-1946
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    Transferred to Map Division: United States. Army. Topographical Engineering Co., 62nd. Map of Cherbourg and Caen, France (1944).

    Transferred to Photographs Division:

    • Coolidge, Cal and Coolidge, Mona. Portrait, c.1943.
    • Johnson, W.D. (Woodrow Dunleavy). Portrait, c.1943.
    • Soldiers playing baseball, [Camp Crowder, Mo.], c.1943.
    • Soldiers playing baseball, [Camp Crowder, Mo.], c.1943.
    • Three soldiers posed in front of building, c. 1943. Black and white negative.
    Bibliography

    Hartmann, Susan M. The home front and beyond: American women in the 1940s (Boston : Twayne Publishers, 1982).

    United States. Army. Third Armored Division. Spearhead in the West, 1941-45, the Third armored division (Frankfurt am Main-Schwanheim : F. J. Heinrich, 1945).

    Partial Subject Index
    African Americans
    • 1943 April 18
    • 1943 September 16
    Air raid wardens
    • 1943 April 29
    Air raid warning systems
    • 1943 April 29
    American National Red Cross
    • 1943 May 3
    Ardennes, Battle of the, 1944-1945
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    • [1944] December 19
    • 1944 December 23
    • 1944 December 25
    • 1945 January 17
    • 1945 May 22
    • 1945 May 27
    • 1945 June 4
    Blue Net Work
    • 1944 September 19
    Brooklyn (N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century
    • 1943 April 7
    • 1943 April 14
    • 1943 April 15
    • 1943 April 17
    • 1943 April 19
    • 1943 April 30
    • 1943 May 4
    • 1943 May 7
    • 1943 May 8
    • 1943 May 10
    • 1943 May 16
    • 1943 May 23
    • 1943 May 26
    • 1943 May 27
    • [1943 May]
    • 1943 June 10
    • 1943 June 13
    • 1943 June 14
    • 1943 June 16
    • 1943 June 26
    • 1943 July 5
    • 1943 July 7
    • 1943 July 20
    • 1943 July 25
    • 1943 August 4
    • 1943 August 12
    • 1943 September 12
    • 1943 September 16
    • 1944 September 8
    • 1944 September 10
    • 1944 September 15
    • 1944 September 19
    • 1944 October 1
    • 1944 October 15
    • 1944 October 29
    • 1944 November 2
    • 1944 November 6
    • 1944 November 18
    • 1944 November 23
    • 1944 December 2
    • 1944 December 23
    • 1944 December 26
    • 1945 January 7
    • 1945 January 14
    • 1945 March 4
    • 1945 March 18
    • 1945 April 1
    • 1945 April 6
    • 1945 May 15
    • 1945 May 28
    Buchenweld (Germany : Concentration camps)
    • 1945 June 15
    Children--Death
    • 1943 July 10
    Christmas
    • [1941] December 5
    • 1944 November 26
    • 1944 November 30
    • 1944 December 2
    • 1944 December 13
    • 1944 December 23
    Church attendance
    • 1943 November 8
    Commercial Builders, Inc
    • 1943 June 21
    Coolidge, Cal
    • 1942 March 18
    • [1943 May]
    • 1943 August 1
    • 1945 April 15
    • 1945 April 22
    Coolidge, Mona
    • [1943 May]
    • 1943 August 1
    • 1944 October 1
    • 1945 February 3
    Costume--20th century
    • 1943 April 17
    • 1943 May 10
    • 1943 June 14
    • 1943 July 15
    • 1943 July 22
    • 1944 October 15
    • 1945 March 4
    • 1945 July 9
    Dachau (Germany : Concentration camps)
    • 1945 June 15
    Death
    • 1914 February 18
    • 1943 June 13
    • [1944 July-August]
    Dental care--20th century
    • [1943 May]
    • 1943 June 16
    • 1943 June 20
    • 1943 June 23
    • 1943 June 28
    • 1943 June 29
    • 1943 July 1
    • [1943] July 12
    • 1943 July 22
    • [1943] July 22
    • 1943 August 4
    Dinners and dining--20th century
    • 1943 April 6
    • 1943 April 17
    • 1943 May 16
    • 1943 May 18
    • 1943 May 23
    • 1943 May 26
    • 1943 May 27
    • 1943 May 30
    • 1943 June 25
    • 1943 June 29
    • 1943 July 5
    • 1943 July 7
    • 1943 July 10
    • 1943 July 19
    • 1943 August 1
    • 1943 August 4
    • 1943 September 8
    • 1943 November 9
    • 1943 December 25
    • 1944 June 27
    • 1944 August 9
    • 1944 September 8
    • 1944 September 15
    • 1944 September 19
    • 1944 September 24
    • 1944 October 1
    • 1944 October 10
    • 1944 October 15
    • 1944 October 21
    • 1944 November 18
    • 1944 November 12
    • 1944 November 27
    • 1944 December 23
    • 1944 December 26
    • 1945 January 14
    • 1945 March 11
    • 1945 April 6
    • 1945 April 15
    • 1945 May 28
    • [1945 June 27]
    Divorce--20th century
    • 1944 September 19
    Drills and minor tactics
    • 1943 April 5
    • [1943] April 11
    • 1943 April 15
    • 1943 April 25
    • 1943 May 1
    • 1943 May 13
    • 1943 May 14
    • 1943 June 22
    • 1943 July 20
    • 1943 July 20
    • [1943] July 22
    • 1943 July 25
    • 1943 July 27
    • 1943 August 13
    • 1943 September 25
    • 1943 November 6
    • 1943 November 19
    • 1943 November 22
    • 1943 November 23
    • [1944 July-August]
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    Education, higher--20th century
    • 1944 December 13
    Eisenhower, Dwight D., 1890-1969
    • 1945 July 9
    Employment references
    • 1942 March 18
    Films
    • 1943 May 14
    • 1945 March 18
    French soldiers
    • 1945 August 30
    Funeral rites and ceremonies
    • 1943 June 16
    Germans--Conduct of life
    • 1945 April 22
    Germany--History--Allied occupation, 1945-1948
    • 1945 May 9
    • 1945 May 28
    • 1945 June 4
    • 1945 August 25
    • 1945 August 30
    • 1945 September 5
    Gifts
    • 1944 October 23
    • 1944 November 26
    • 1944 December 2
    • 1944 December 13
    • 1944 December 23
    • 1945 March 11
    Hastings, George E.
    • 1943 May 16
    Himmler, Heinrich, 1900-1945
    • 1945 May 14
    Hospital care--Quality control
    • 1943 April 22
    House cleaning--20th century
    • 1943 May 30
    • 1943 June 20
    • 1943 July 25
    • 1944 October 29
    • 1944 November 2
    • 1945 March 18
    Illness
    • [1929 September 9]
    • [1929 September 19]
    Interior decoration
    • 1943 April 15
    • 1944 November 18
    Japan--Description and travel--20th century
    • 1945 November 25
    Japan--History--Allied occupation, 1945-1952
    • 1945 November 25
    Japanese soldiers
    • 1945 March 17
    • [1945 March 26]
    Johnson, Jane
    • [1943] June 24
    Johnson, W. D. (Woodrow Dunleavy)
    • 1942 March 18
    • 1943 April 7
    • 1945 March 18
    Katharine Gibbs School
    • 1943 April 5
    • 1943 April 6
    • 1943 April 14
    • 1943 April 19
    • 1943 April 30
    • 1943 May 7
    • 1943 May 26
    • 1943 May 27
    • 1943 June 23
    • 1943 June 25
    • [1943] July 12
    • 1944 September 8
    • 1944 September 15
    • 1944 September 19
    • 1944 October 21
    • 1944 October 29
    • 1944 November 7
    • 1945 January 10
    • 1945 February 3
    • 1945 April 15
    • 1945 July 9
    Korea--History--Allied occupation, 1945-1948
    • [1945 November 22]
    • 1946 March 10
    Lease and rental services--New York--20th century
    • 1943 June 21
    • 1943 June 26
    • 1943 June 28
    • 1943 June 29
    • 1943 July 1
    • 1943 July 12
    Letter-writing
    • 1943 May 19
    Malaria
    • 1945 February 3
    Mons, battle of, 1944
    • [After 1944 September 3]
    Mothers--Death
    • 1930 January 6
    New York (N.Y.)--Fires and fire prevention--20th century
    • 1945 January 21
    New York (N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century
    • 1943 May 16
    • 1943 May 18
    • 1943 May 30
    Nordhausen (Germany : Concentration camp)
    • [After 1945 April 11]
    • [After 1945 April 11]
    Ocean travel--20th century
    • 1943 November 6
    • [1945 June 27]
    • [1945 October 19]
    Orange Co. (N.Y.)--Social life and customs--20th century
    • 1943 August 1
    Parker, Wilder, and Co.
    • 1943 September 1
    • 1943 September 7
    Postoperative period
    • 1943 April 25
    Presidential candidates--Election--1944
    • 1944 October 10
    • 1944 November 2
    • 1944 November 6
    • 1944 November 12
    Pyle, Ernie, 1900-1945
    • 1945 April 22
    Railroad travel--20th century
    • [1943] April 11
    • 1943 May 31
    • 1943 July 22
    • 1943 August 1
    • 1943 August 5
    • 1943 August 12
    • 1943 August 13
    • 1943 August 15
    Rationing--20th century
    • 1943 April 29
    • 1943 April 30
    • 1943 May 7
    • 1943 May 16
    • 1943 May 18
    • 1943 May 30
    • 1943 June 6
    • 1943 June 10
    • 1943 June 14
    • 1943 June 20
    • 1943 June 25
    • 1943 July 19
    • 1943 August 4
    • 1943 September 7
    • 1943 September 8
    • 1943 September 16
    • 1944 September 24
    • 1944 October 29
    • 1944 November 23
    • 1945 May 15
    • 1945 August 19
    Resorts--Massachusetts
    • 1943 April 9
    Roller-skating
    • 1944 February 3
    Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 1882-1945
    • [After 1945 April 11]
    • 1945 April 15
    Rose, Maurice, 1899-1945
    • 1945 January 10
    • [1945] March 17
    • [After 1945 April 11]
    Siegfried line
    • 1944 October 4
    Soldiers--Conduct of life
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    • [1945 November 22]
    Surgery--20th century
    • 1943 April 22
    Sussman Brothers
    • 1943 September 17
    Switzerland--Description and travel--20th century
    • 1945 October 19
    Textiles industry--20th century
    • 1943 September 1
    • 1943 September 7
    • 1943 September 17
    United States. Army. Armored Division, 3rd (1941-)
    • 1943 November 19
    • 1944 August 9
    • [1944] August 30
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    • 1944 November 7
    • 1944 December 2
    • 1945 January 10
    • 1945 January 10
    • [1945] April 20
    • 1945 May 27
    • 1945 May 28
    • 1945 July 9
    United States. Army--Barracks and quarters
    • 1943 April 8
    United States. Army--Dental care--20th century
    • 1943 April 15
    United States. Army--Dinners and dining--20th century
    • 1943 July 25
    United States. Army--Leaves and furloughs
    • [1941] December 5
    • 1943 May 27
    • 1943 June 10
    • 1943 June 14
    • 1943 July 20
    • 1943 July 25
    • 1943 July 27
    • [1943] August 12
    • 1943 August 22
    • 1943 October 27
    • 1944 October 5
    • 1945 May 13-14
    • 1945 May 24
    United States. Army--Medals, badges, decorations, etc.
    • 1945 April 15
    • 1945 May 22
    • 1945 May 27
    • 1945 May 28
    • 1945 June 4
    United States. Army--Medical care
    • 1943 May 1
    • 1943 May 3
    • 1943 May 8
    United States. Army--Promotions
    • 1943 May 19
    • 1943 May 27
    • 1943 July 7
    • [1943] July 22
    • 1945 May 27
    • 1945 May 28
    • 1945 May 31
    • 1945 June 15
    • 1945 June 23
    United States. Army--Public opinion
    • 1945 October 19
    United States. Army--Recruitment, enlistment, etc.--World War, 1939-1945
    • 1942 December 31
    • 1943 March 22
    • 1943 April 5
    • 1943 April 6
    • 1943 April 25
    • 1945 May 9
    United States. Army--Transfers
    • 1945 May 31
    United States. Army--Uniforms
    • 1943 April 8
    • 1945 June 23
    United States. Army--Women
    • 1943 May 1
    United States. Navy--Promotions
    • 1942 April 10
    Vacations
    • 1943 May 25
    • 1943 June 10
    • 1943 June 23
    • 1943 June 28
    • 1943 June 29
    • [1943] July 12
    • 1943 July 15
    • 1943 July 25
    • 1943 July 29
    • 1943 August 4
    • 1943 September 4
    • 1945 April 6 [i.e. 26]
    • 1945 May 15
    • 1945 May 24
    • 1945 July 9
    • 1945 August 25
    V-E Day, 1945
    • 1945 April 6 [i.e. 26]
    • 1945 May 7
    • 1945 May 28
    Weddings--20th century
    • 1943 May 8
    • 1944 October 15
    • 1944 October 23
    • 1945 February 3
    • 1945 May 28
    Women--Employment--20th century
    • 1943 April 5
    • 1943 April 6
    • 1943 April 14
    • 1943 April 17
    • 1943 April 19
    • 1943 April 29
    • 1943 April 30
    • 1943 May 7
    • 1943 May 16
    • 1943 May 26
    • 1943 May 27
    • 1943 June 23
    • 1943 June 25
    • 1943 July 3
    • [1943] July 12
    • 1944 September 8
    • 1944 September 10
    • 1944 September 15
    • 1944 September 19
    • 1944 October 21
    • 1944 October 29
    • 1944 November 7
    • 1945 January 10
    • 1945 February 3
    • 1945 April 15
    • 1945 July 9
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Africa, North
    • 1943 April 15
    • 1943 June 22
    • 1943 July 31
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Belgium
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    • 1944 December 2
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--France
    • 1944 June 25
    • [1944 July-August]
    • [1944] August 30
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Germany
    • [1944] September 19-[1945] March 13
    • [After 1944 December 2]
    • [1945] March 23
    • [1945] April 20
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Italy
    • 1943 June 12
    • 1943 September 8
    • 1944 February 5
    World War, 1939-1945--Campaigns--Russia
    • 1944 February 5
    World War, 1939-1945--Censorship
    • 1943 July 20
    • 1943 November 9
    • 1943 November 12
    • 1945 January 10
    World War, 1939-1945--Economic aspects
    • 1943 May 8
    • 1943 July 20
    • 1944 November 30
    • [After 1944 December 2]
    World War, 1939-1945--France
    • 1945 March 17
    World War, 1939-1945--Philippine Islands
    • 1945 March 17
    World War, 1939-1945--War work--Red Cross
    • 1943 May 3
    • 1944 February 3