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Harold Keith Johnson
Joseph Richards Essig's portrait of General Johnson
Nickname Johnny[1]
Born (1912-02-22)February 22, 1912
Died September 24, 1983(1983-09-24) (aged 71)
Place of birth Bowesmont, North Dakota
Place of death Washington, D.C.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service 1933-1968
Rank US-O10 insignia.svg General
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War

Harold Keith "Johnny" Johnson (February 22, 1912 – September 24, 1983) was a United States General. He served as the Chief of Staff of the United States Army from 1964 to 1968.

Early career and World War II[edit | edit source]

Harold Keith Johnson was born in Bowesmont, North Dakota on February 22, 1912. After graduation from high school in 1929, Johnson attended the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York. On June 13, 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, Minnesota. In 1938, Johnson attended Infantry School in Fort Benning. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the 28th Infantry at Fort Niagara, New York. Requesting overseas transfer, Johnson was reassigned to the 57th Infantry (Philippines Scouts) at Fort McKinley, Philippine Islands in 1940. After the fall of Bataan, Johnson became a prisoner of the Japanese on 9 April 1942. Participating in the Bataan Death March, Johnson 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 the 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 September 7, 1945.

Post World War II and Chief of Staff[edit | edit source]

After Johnson’s return to the United States, his first assignment was with the Ground Forces School Tour. In August 1946, he attended the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he remained as an instructor for another two years. Johnson next attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia in 1949. After graduation, he was assigned as Commanding Officer, 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. Johnson organized the 1st Provisional Infantry Battalion at Fort Devens, and in August 1950, he was dispatched to Korea. The battalion was attached to the 1st Cavalry Division for the defense of the Pusan Perimeter. Still with the 1st Cavalry, Johnson was later promoted to command 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 United States, Johnson was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Army Field Forces, Fort Monroe, Virginia. 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, Colorado. Later in 1956, he transferred with the 8th Division to Germany. Johnson’s next assignment was as Chief of Staff, Seventh Army Headquarters at Stuttgart-Vaihingen. Then in April 1959, Johnson moved to Headquarters, United States Army, Europe, as Assistant Chief of Staff, G3. The following December, he was appointed Chief of Staff, Central Army Group at NATO Headquarters concerned with planning for the employment of French, German, and American troop operations in Central Europe.

Returning to the United States, Johnson was assigned as Commandant, Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 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. On July 3, 1964, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the United States Army. In 1964, General Johnson became the 24th Chief of Staff of the United States Army, the second youngest man to have held the post to that point, having been unexpectedly promoted 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. For three years later, General Johnson headed the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge and afterwards worked as a banking executive until retiring for good.

Johnson married Dorothy Rennix in 1935. He was the subject of a biography, Honorable Warrior, by Lewis Sorley. He died September 24, 1983, in Washington, D.C..

Tributes[edit | edit source]

"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..."[2]

"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."[3]

Military history[edit | edit source]

  • 1933: graduated from the United States Military Academy
  • 1933–1937: Commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the 3d Infantry at Fort Snelling
  • 1936: Promoted to first lieutenant
  • 1938: Graduated from the Infantry School at Fort Benning
  • 1938-1940: Served in the 28th Infantry at Fort Niagara
  • 1940: Assigned to the 57th Infantry, Philippine Scouts, at Fort McKinley
  • 1940: Promoted to temporary rank of captain
  • 1941: Promoted to temporary rank of major
  • 1942: Promoted to temporary rank of lieutenant colonel
  • 1943: Promoted to permanent rank of captain
  • 1942–1945: Was a battalion commander in the defense of the Philippines, was taken prisoner when Bataan fell, survived the Bataan Death March and imprisonment in the Philippines, Japan, and Korea, and was liberated by the 7th Infantry Division
  • 1945: Promoted to temporary colonel
  • 1947–1949: Instructor at Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth
  • 1950: Commanded the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, at Fort Devens, 1950;
  • 1950–1951: Battalion commander and commander of both the 5th and 8th Cavalry in Korean War operations
  • 1951: Plans and operations officer of the I Corps, Far East Command
  • 1951-1952: Plans and operations officer in the Office of the Chief of Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe
  • 1953: Graduated from the National War College
  • 1954–1955: Chief of the Joint War Plans Branch, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G–3
  • 1956: Promoted to temporary brigadier general
  • 1956: Promoted to permanent colonel
  • 1955–1956: Executive officer in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G–3
  • 1956–1957: Assistant division commander of the 8th Infantry Division
  • 1957–1959: Chief of staff of the American Seventh Army in Germany
  • 1959–1960: Chief of staff of the Central Army Group, North Atlantic Treaty Organization
  • 1959: Promoted to temporary major general
  • 1960: Promoted to permanent brigadier general
  • 1960–1963: Commandant of the Command and General Staff College
  • 1963: Assistant and then acting deputy chief of staff for military operations
  • 1963: Promoted to permanent major general
  • 1963: Promoted to temporary lieutenant general
  • 1964: Promoted to temporary general
  • 1963–1964: Deputy chief of staff for military operations
  • July 3, 1964 – July 2, 1968: Chief of Staff of the United States Army
  • 1968: Retired from active service

Decorations[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, David Halberstam, p. 19, Hyperion, 2007
  2. Corporal Lester Urban, cited in Halberstam, p.19
  3. Halberstam, p. 19

External links[edit | edit source]

Military offices
Preceded by
Earle G. Wheeler
Chief of Staff of the United States Army
Succeeded by
William C. Westmoreland
Preceded by
Harry Jacob Lemley, Jr.
Commandant of the Command and General Staff College
1960 - 1963
Succeeded by
Lionel C. McGarr

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