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Johnsons revisit wartime service
Written by Greg Ruland   
Saturday, 15 January 2011 00:00

Don and Faye Johnson experienced World War II like the vast majority of Americans, away from the battlefields but in support of the troops.

Cottonwood resident Don Johnson arrived at Guadalcanal as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps after most Japanese on the island had been killed or captured. A welder and machinist, Johnson made certain aircraft transporting wounded to the Army Hospital in Hawaii were flight-ready, among many other assignments.

World War II ration books make up a small part of saved memorabilia from the war belonging to Cottonwood residents Don and Faye Johnson, who will speak in the gym at the Clemenceau School on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. about their experiences servicing the war effort in civilian capacities.His wife, Faye, worked at an industrial plant in Los Angeles that manufactured aircraft parts, including top secret components of the B-25 “Mitchell” bomber.

The Johnsons will recall their wartime experiences during a presentation of World War II Tales hosted by Verde Historical Society at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, in the gym of Clemenceau School at the corner of Mingus Avenue and Willard Street in Cottonwood. The talk follows a brief general meeting of the society.

For members of “The Greatest Generation,” many of the stories will sound familiar. For those wanting to meet people who helped win the world’s costliest conflict, the stories give insight into how average Americans rose to the challenges presented by World War II.

Don Johnson carried a weapon and hunted for Japanese stragglers who were stealing from the camp kitchen, but initially spent most of his time at Guadalcanal building an airbase from the ground up, improvising with materials left behind by the Army, which had moved on to other fronts.

“They left plenty of 55-gallon barrels,” Johnson said. “Everything we built, we built out of barrels. This is where my experience with welding came in handy.”

Don and Faye Johnson talk Friday, Jan. 7, about the strict conditions observed during electrical blackout periods after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Johnsons will give a public talk about their experiences servicing the war effort in civilian capacities at the Clemenceau School at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18.Faye Johnson worked eight to 12 hours a day, sometimes longer, on a swing shift that normally lasted from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., often seven days a week. She drove home in pitch black because all the lights across the city were off in case of an air raid.

To make ends meet during times of shortage, both Johnsons took a turn as small-time black marketeers, trading in items more valuable than cash like silk stockings, dress yardage, cigarettes and beer.

“If you saw a line, you got in it, even if you didn’t know what they were selling,” Faye Johnson said of her time on the homefront.

Don Johnson often traded for cans of beer during his time at Guadacanal and kept a stockpile in his foot locker for trading purposes.

During a stopover, one Marine heard of the stockpile and stopped by Johnson’s tent to ask for a beer. Johnson offered to give him one for free in gratitude for his service, but the Marine insisted on paying. After the transaction, Johnson left his tent briefly, then returned to an unexpected sight.

“When I got back to my tent, there was a long line of Marines stretching way back into the jungle, all around the camp,” he laughed. “I didn’t have near enough beer for those guys.”

As a legacy for their two sons, the Johnsons compiled many of their memories into notebooks full of photographs and memorabilia, like ration cards, V-Mail and other items.

Faye Johnson keeps the tools she used in her work at the wartime factory in a wooden box in the living room of her log house in west Cottonwood.

With a little coaxing, she brought them out during an interview Friday, Jan. 7, demonstrating some of the work she did while sitting at a bench more than 60 years ago.

 

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