Harold Keith Johnson
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1933
Engagements: • World War II (1941 - 1945)• Korean War (1950 - 1953)
Harold Keith Johnson
Harold Keith Johnson was born on 22 February 1912 in Bowesmont, ND. After graduation from high school in 1929, Johnson attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY. On 13 June 1933, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. Johnson's first duty assignment was with the 3rd Infantry (Old Guard) at Fort Snelling, MN. Johnson married Dorothy Rennix in 1935. In 1936 he was promoted to First Lieutenant.
In 1938, Johnson attended the Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the 28th Infantry at Fort Niagara, NY. After requesting an overseas transfer, Johnson was reassigned to the 57th Infantry (Philippines Scouts) at Fort McKinley, Philippine Islands in 1940. He was promoted to the temporary rank of Captain in 1940 and to the temporary rank of Major in 1941.
After the fall of Bataan, Johnson became a prisoner of the Japanese on 9 April 1942. Johnson participated in the Bataan Death March and was eventually imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan, and Bilibid Prison. In December 1944, the Japanese attempted to transfer Johnson and 1600 other POWs out of the Philippines. On 14 December 1944, American fighter planes sunk the Japanese ship Oryoku Maru killing over 300 of the POWs. Johnson survived and was eventually transferred to Japan. Unwilling to give up their POWs to the advancing Allies, Japan again transferred Johnson. Finally ending up in Korea, Johnson was liberated by the 7th Infantry Division on 7 September 1945. While a POW he was promoted to: temporary rank of Lieutenant Colonel (1942) and permanent rank of Captain (1943).
Post WWII and Chief of Staff
After Johnson's return to the U.S., his first assignment was with the Ground Forces School Tour and he was promoted to temporary Colonel. In August 1946, he attended the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS where he remained as an instructor for another two years. In 1949 Johnson attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, VA. After graduation, he was assigned as Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry at Fort Devens, MA.
In August 1950, Johnson was sent to Korea in command of the 1st Provisional Infantry Division. After his arrival in Korea, Johnson was transferred to the 1st Cavalry Division for the defense of the Pusan Perimeter. While with the 1st Cavalry, he commanded the 5th and the 8th Cavalry Regiments. In February 1951, he was reassigned as Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, of I Corps.
Returning to the U.S., Johnson was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, VA. In 1952 he attended the National War College. After graduation, Johnson was assigned to the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff , G3, where he served first, as Chief of Joint War Plans Branch, then as the Assistant to the Chief of the Plans Division, and finally as the Executive Officer of the Assistant Chief of Staff.
In January 1956, Johnson was assigned to duty as Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, CO. Later in 1956, he transferred with the 8th Division to Germany. During 1956 he was promoted to: temporary rank of Brigadier General and permanent rank of Colonel.
Johnson's next assignment was as Chief of Staff, Seventh Army Headquarters at Stuttgart-Vaihingen. Johnson moved to Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, as Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, in April 1959. The following December he was appointed Chief of Staff, Central Army Group at NATO Headquarters tasked with planning for the employment of French, German, and American troop operations in Central Europe. In 1959 he was promoted to temporary Major General.
Returning to the U.S., Johnson was assigned as Commandant, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. In 1960 he was promoted to permanent Brigadier General. In February 1963, he became Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations (Operations and Plans) Department of the Army, and in July was appointed as Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations. In 1963 he was promoted to permanent Major General and temporary Lieutenant General.
On 3 July 1964, General Johnson became the 24th Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, having been unexpectedly promoted to temporary four-star General over several more-senior generals. Johnson was the Army's leading tactician, having served as Commandant of the Command and General Staff College, and was an outspoken skeptic of deploying troops except as a last resort and accompanied by the total commitment of the civilian leadership.
During his term as Chief of Staff, he was involved in many policy debates regarding the escalation of the Vietnam War. He was a strong proponent of full military mobilization: declare a national emergency, call up the reserves, fight a quick and decisive war, and withdraw. He considered resigning in protest over President Lyndon B. Johnson's decision not to mobilize the Reserves, and at the end of his life expressed regret at not doing so.
As Chief of Staff, one of Johnson's noteworthy accomplishments was creating the Office of the Sergeant Major of the Army to improve the quality of life for enlisted personnel. He selected Sergeant Major William O. Wooldridge to be the first to hold this post. Johnson also served as acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for a few months in 1967 during the convalescence of General Earle Wheeler.
Johnson retired from active duty in July 1968.
Medals and Awards
Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Cross Citation
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Harold K. Johnson, Lieutenant Colonel (Infantry), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Commanding Officer of the 3d Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division. Lieutenant Colonel Johnson distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces near Tabu-dong, Korea, on 4 September 1950. When his battalion had been forced to withdraw from their hill position by a series of fierce attacks by an overwhelming number of the enemy, Colonel Johnson immediately directed a counterattack in an attempt to regain the vitally important dominating terrain. Placing himself with the most forward elements in order to more effectively direct and coordinate the attack, Colonel Johnson rallied his men and led them forward. Moving about exposed to the heavy enemy artillery, mortar and small-arms fire, he directed fire, assigned positions and, by personal example, proved the necessary incentive to stimulate and keep the attack moving. When his battalion began to falter due to the devastating enemy fire, Colonel Johnson moved forward to close proximity of the enemy to establish and personally operate a forward observation post. Remaining in this exposed position, he directed effective mortar counter fire against the enemy. When his mortars became inoperable and his casualties very heavy due to the tremendous firepower and numerically superior enemy forces, he realized the necessity for withdrawal. Remaining in the position until the last unit had withdrawn, he directed the salvaging of both weapons and equipment. Reestablishing a new defensive position, he reorganized his battalion and supervised medical attention and evacuation of the wounded. His conspicuous devotion to duty and selfless conduct under enemy fire provided an inspiring example to his men and prevented a serious penetration of friendly lines.
Headquarters, Eighth U.S. Army, Korea: General Orders No. 52 (February 2, 1951)
Honors and Tributes
• He was the subject of a biography, Honorable Warrior, by Lewis Sorley.
• "He had an unusual sense of loyalty to the men under him, the kind of thing ordinary soldiers notice and value when they grade an officer..."
• "He was the best, someone born to lead men. I think he was always thinking about what was good for us. Nothing ever got by him."
Death and Burial
General Harold Keith Johnson died on 24 September 1983, in Washington, DC. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, in Section 30, Lot 430-2.
His wife, Dorothy Rennix Johnson was buried beside her husband after her death on 25 July 2008.
|Honoree ID: 258||Created by: MHOH|