Keith L. Johnson

Keith Louis Johnson was born on September 26, 1919 in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.   After graduation from high school, he attended Ripon College, but returned home after one year when his father died and he was needed to run the family business, Johnson Monument Company.   He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps……..

Private Johnson (center) received his Diploma from the Army Air Corps Technical School in Hawaii in Aircraft Maintenance on July 3, 1941.

Johnson traveled through the Panama Canal, went ashore briefly at Colon, and went on to Curacao, off the northern coast of Venezuela.  

On October 1, 1942, he earned the rank of Sergeant and was assigned to the 59th Bomber Squadron.

The squadron trained in Curacao until they received orders for combat readiness, leading to deployment for a D-Day staging base in England.

Sgt. Johnson flew bombing missions over Europe on a Havoc A-20 bomber as a tail gunner for three months prior to D-Day.    His flight over Germany on June 6, 1944 was his 38th mission.

After the war, Mr. Johnson returned to Chippewa Falls to take over the family monument business, and ran the company until his death in 1974.

Keith Writes A Letter Home

Wednesday, Sept. 5th (1941)

Dear Mother and Dony,

We started for Panama on the boat Panama yesterday at 12 o’clock noon. This boat rates second of being the best transport the army has.

Yesterday the minute we got onboard I was picked out to go on K. P. right away and got off this morning. I have seen flying fish already. Today we ran into a storm and boy is the ocean ever choppy. We just go up and down. About half of the fellows are sea sick but as yet (tapping on wood) I feel fine. It has been raining all day and they say we are going to run into worse weather tonight.

We sleep in the fron of the ship down in the hold and we sleep on canvas bunks that fold down from the wall and are they ever hard.

Today we had a fire drill. Everybody had to grab a life belt and fall out on deck. For the amount of time it took we could have sunk two or three times. You will have to excuse the writing because everytime we hit a wave I just about flop on the floor.

This morning they got us up at 4:30 for K. P. and it was still dark. The moon was out in all its glory and it really was beautiful. I also saw the sun come up through a porthole in the kitchen. This is all for today.

Sept. 8th

I sort of missed up on the last couple of days but it was just about the same as before. All water. For the last couple of nights the boat has been a complete blackout. The Greer incident seems to have scared the captain. I am writing this letter at the rear of the boat and am getting light from the engine room.

This afternoon we had a few wrestling and boxing matches on the top deck. There is also a pool up there about 10’ long that we can swim in, but I didn’t expect this so my bathing suit is down in the hold where I can’t get at it.

There is a fine bunch of officers on the ship and they are just as put out about having to go down here as we are, so they are very democratic and really get out and mix with us.

Tomorrow we reach the Atlantic side of Panama and we get passes to go ashore at Colon from 8 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock at night. The infantry and some of the air corps men get off there and the rest of us go through the canal to Panama on the Pacific side. I will be at Allbrook Field there but will send a more complete address when I get there.

Get the map out and I’ll tell you the route we took. The first time I knew where we were was 120 miles off Miami, then we passed through Cuba and Haiti. On the left we could see both places at the same time. Last night we passed Jamaica on the right of us, and tomorrow morning at 7 o’clock we will land on Colon.

When you travel by land to some strange place you usually see a gradual change before you get there, but traveling on water like this is different. Its going to be an awful big jump from what New York was 4 ½ days ago. From what I hear the sailors say on here I think I’m going to like it. They say Allbrook Field is the nicest one down there. It is only about a half a mile from Panama City. I am sort of anxious to get there and get situated in a squadron.

Ha! The Engineer just told me they used to carry cows where we sleep. I told him I was from Americas Dairyland and was used to that.

The meals are pretty good on the ship. We had ¼ chicken each yesterday for dinner and we have ice cream every noon for dessert. It is awful hot in the mess hall though. It was 103° above this noon.

I’ll write as soon as I get to Allbrook and give you my address, but will send this letter out tomorrow because I imagine you are sort of wondering where your little traveling Jew is.

Some of the boys got their traveling money back in New York but I didn’t because my service record was sent right to Panama, so will get it when I get there. I’m sort of anzious to because I’ve been broke for the last two weeks.

(part of the last page torn off)…..built in 1939 and is powered by oil burner. It goes about 24 knots an hour which is about 27 miles an hour. It is owned by the Panamanian Gov’t. and is the fastest thing the Army has.

I got my coveralls before I left and was glad because that is all we wear on the ship here.

By now you should be well started on your business venture and am sure anxious to know how you are getting along. I hope it’s great.

It is now time for all sea-going sailors to hit the hay so good-bye.

Love,
Keith (Salty)

Sgt. Johnson Is In The News

Among Wisconsin fliers hopping over the channel on D-Day, June 6, was Sgt. Keith Johnson, 24, of Chippewa Fals, who with his brothers operate the Johnson Monument Company here. He told Robert J. Doyle, war correspondent of Ladysmith, that it looked like the allied forces had a firm hold on the beachheads as he returned to his English base after dumping his bombs on German targets further inland.
Johnson, a turret gunner on a Havoc bomber (A-20), and had been flying almost daily over the channel for three months in preparation for D-day. He made what looked like a routine flight Tuesday, June 6, and found himself supporting the first wave of invasion troops to land in France.
Ships in the channel were thicker than hair on a dog’s back, said Sgt. Frank Melchoir, of Gillett, Wis., another gunner on a Havoc bomber. They encountered little fire from the enemy ground forces but a heavy cloud bank forced them to fly low to see their targets, and the blasts from their own bombs shook up the crews.
Johnson flew his 38th mission on D-day. He plans to return to Chippewa Falls and join his brothers in the monument company after the war, he told Doyle. Doyle’s account of Wisconsin flyers participating in the invasion said they all felt better since the invasion started. “It looks like this will shorten it up. We sure hope so,” one of them said.

Keith L. Johnson WWII Timeline

July 3, 1941 – Army Air Corps, graduated from Technical School in Hawaii
Sept. 5, 1941 – Boarded the ship Panama for the canal zone
Dec. 8, 1941 – Pass through the Panama Canal
Jan. 13, 1942 – Arrived at Hato Field, Curacao, NWI
Jan. 15, 1942 – 59th assigned to VI Bomber Command
June 23, 1942 – 59th reassigned to 6th Fighter Command
Oct. 1, 1942 – Promoted to Sergeant, 59th Bomber Squadron
July 8, 1943 – 59th left Curacao for Trinidad, British West Indies
Oct. 11, 1943 – 59th is assigned to the 25th Bombardment Group for extensive training
Jan. 24, 1944 – Placed in state of readiness for redeployment upon command
March, 1944 – Started flying bombing missions across the English Channel
June 6, 1944 – D-Day, flew over Normandy to bomb Germany
Dec. 27, 1945 – Honorable Discharge, Rank of Staff Sergeant

Maps Showing Service Areas for Keith L. Johnson and Galen D. Kees

Sources

Main page for information on the 59th Bomber Squadron information and U.S. Army Air Corps insignia: http://home.satx.rr.com/bombardment/htmdocs/59thbshistorytem.htm#1941

Site for world map:
https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/reference_maps/pdf/political_world.pdf

Newspaper article from Chippewa Herald-Telegram, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, date unknown

Primary source information and images provided by Connie Kees, daughter of Keith L. Johnson

Produced by Connie F. Kees. Contact keescf@charter.net