PERSHING J. JOHNSON
Here is a brief account of my
I was a T4 Sergeant in the
Ninth Armored Division, 16th Field Artillery Battalion, Headquarters Battery.
We arrived in Europe August,
1944. Our 9 Armored fought in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. After May 9,
1945, I was
with the Army of Occupation.
In March-April, 1945, after crossing the Rhine we struck on into Germany. With
that sweep we
caused the liberation of
concentration camps, slave labor camps and many that I do not know what they
were called. I know of
no camp that was ever liberated
until the German SS and the Wehrmacht were first driven back or captured.
Here is a quote from my service
Service Stripe - two overseas Service Bars.
American Campaign Medal -
European, African-Middle Eastern Theater, Ribbon with three Bronze Battle
Stars, Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Unit
Badge, World War Victory Medal and Certificate of Merit.
Battles and Campaigns - Ardennes, Rhineland and
Personal Citation - This Certificate of Merit is
awarded to Sergeant Pershing J. Johnson, 16th Armored F.A. Battalion, in
Conspicuously Meritorious and Outstanding
Performance of Military Duty, Belgium, December 16-25, 1944, C.W. Wesner, Lt.
(Wow, it's been 49 years since
anyone noticed this.) If I can be of help, let me know.
Q. How were you involved in
the War? What were you doing in Europe?
A: We sailed in July of
1944, after D-Day. It took about a month to get our equipment into England
across the Channel. In
August we went across the
Channel into France. The first shot was fired in September. I was a Sergeant,
Headquarters Battery. Mostly,
I was a radio code operator with the job to direct fire from the command center
to the target. I
now live in Davenport
Q: How did you become aware
of the Holocaust? What evidence of it did you see?
A: I hope my emotions stay
put. There were lots of displaced persons as we moved in. Late in 1944 and
early in 1945, a
magazine called Stars and
Stripes came out, so I was aware of what was going on. I was in Belgium,
Germany. By February I was in
Germany exclusively. I spent six weeks in Nance, France. On February 8, 80
started out, to finish Hitler
off. Our combat command was the first to hit the Rhine.
On March 7, we took Ramagen
Bridge. They put up a good scrap, but we got across. More and more displaced
showed up by March. We
liberated factories and camps, mostly Poles. We did pretty well in helping
them. By that I mean we
fed them a lot. The kitchen
truck moved up, and the cooks fed nearly 300 a day. I've seen movies, but they
can't depict an
emaciated person. I thought we
did a remarkable job. We always did the best we could. We tried to bring order
out of chaos.
I remember a factory worker who
had a severe ear infection. The medics took care of it and in two or three days
like a different person. Sulfa
drugs did good work on a mean infection. We saved lives. The troops felt so
much better when
they saw hope, when they saw
others being helped. The Russian soldiers didn't help. The had lots of
territory. We tangled with some.
I was in the Battle of the
Bulge. We met Hitler's First Panzer Division in December, 1944. History fails
to point out how well
trained our divisions were.
The Panzer Divisions couldn't match us!
In May I ended up 30 miles from
Berlin. On May 5 we finally got a cease fire. We started heading back then.
It's hard to
believe that the Russians were
occupying part of Germany.
I did get to help round up top
Nazis for the Nuremberg Trials. I didn't know their names. I wish I had. We
rounded up three or
four one night.
It's not mentioned in history
what a tremendous transformation we made in such a short time. It's difficult
Q: You were the most
battle-tested group. How did it change the soldiers to see starving people,
etc.? How do you think it changed them?
A: When we came up to smashing
a building, we wanted to put up a white flag and have them come out, or we would
We needed to use our heads and
let them come out, not do what a conquering army does. Sometimes we had to be
resourceful. We had to level
enough towns, but we didn't want to do that. DPs (Displaced Persons) sometimes
mixed in with
the troops. They wanted
revenge. We knew that an all-out war was the only way to
Q: Did you see any other
camps? Were you coming across those from camps and factories?
A: Divisions came in to take
care of them. The Germans emptied out the camps before we got there.
among those liberated first.
Dachau was liberated later.
Q: What about Nazi symbols
today...the activities of unbelievers?
A: The world was slow to
believe. In 1938, the first activity was Krystallnacht. It was out of the
ordinary to behave this way!
Propaganda machine was going
to discount what was happening. People in this country had doubts. Stories
always say they
were liberated, but they don't
say by whom. U.S. troops were the only ones that could do anything about it.
U.S. was the final
hope. You hear, "Why didn't we
do something sooner!" There was the shout of disarmament. In the 1940's you
much. In 1941, it finally
Q: What's the important
A: Keep the military strong!
Look at the military in a favorable light! Decisions are made by civilians, and
it's good to keep
the military at our service.
It's a tough world. Keep hoping for the best.