Defenders of Freedom

Andrew Johnson: ‘I’m glad I served’

Andrew Johnson got into World War II late, but played an important role in supporting U.S. efforts in fighting the Axis Powers.

Johnson joined the Marines in 1943 after graduating from South Williamsport High School with hopes of becoming a tank driver.

The Marines had other ideas.

Following nine weeks in boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, he was sent to school to become an aircraft radio operator.

“That suited me,” he said. “I was interested in radio. In high school, we had a radio club.”

By the following year, he had been assigned stateside to an air warning group, training to set up radio and radar stations for landing.

Johnson recalled being ordered by the officer in charge to instruct a group of staff sergeants who out-ranked him about how to prepare for such duty.

“I reminded the officer in charge that I was a private first class and his words were, ‘are you refusing to instruct the staff sergeants?’ “

Johnson said he didn’t want to be insubordinate and carried out the order.

By February 1945, he was on a ship, Harvey Taylor, headed for somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

“I was assigned to VMR 253, MAG 21 as a radio operator on C-46’s and C-47’s,” he said.

His duties also included serving as a loadmaster to ensure cargo was secure and correctly situated on the planes, which were also equipped to carry wounded.

Johnson’s days were spent flying out of Guam to many of the Pacific islands, including Hawaii, Johnston, Eniwetok, Kwajalien, Saipan, Anguar, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and Majuro.

He didn’t see much of the islands.

“I was in and out of them,” he said. “I really didn’t have time to look around.”

He was stationed in Guam and flew with a crew consisting of a pilot, co-pilot, navigator and himself.

Johnson said he saw no enemy fire.

However, a sniper fired at and hit his plane when it was on the ground and the crew were elsewhere.

“We didn’t carry firearms at all,” he said.

Johnson said he liked flying.

“I would have liked to have been a gunner on dive bombers,” he said. “Some radio operators did that.”

Johnson said he requested such duty but was told he wasn’t needed to perform it.

After Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces Sept. 1, 1945, Johnson returned to the U.S. He was discharged in April 1946.

He decided to re-enlist in 1947 in the Marine Reserves, but after the birth of his son, he went on inactive duty.

He had become a young ex-serviceman with a family.

“I wanted to go to trade school in tool design,” he said.

Instead, he ended up working different jobs before landing in the post office in Williamsport.

“I started in 1952 as a distribution clerk,” he recalled.

He ended up spending 32 years in the postal service, retiring as a supervisor.

He and his wife, Mary, who passed away last year, raised four children. There are also nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

These days, he stays active in veteran’s groups such as American Legion and the VFW.

“I’m glad I served” in the military, he said.

Johnson said he learned discipline and feels a two-year military stint should be a requirement of high school graduates.

Looking back, he said, he doesn’t mind that he missed combat.

“No. I was satisfied,” he said.