If you see this message, that means that you either do not have the latest version of Adobe Flashplayer installed (install it here) or you have blocked the ActiveX control for Internet Explorer. Please reload the page and allow the control.

Mr. Johnson says that he wishes he died instead of his friends. Mr. Johnson describes the sacrifices of Americans for the freedom of others.

Mr. James Russell Johnson was born in South Carolina on February 7, 1942. Mr. Johnson is a man of African-descent who grew up during the civil rights era. He was a member of the Marine Corps from 1960 to 1964. He served time in Vietnam during his second tour and witnessed many men killed and severely wounded during his time. Yet he was still able to return home and live a "normal" life. He is an amazing man who has lived so much in so little time. He took care of his little brothers and sisters in a parental role before deciding to join the Marines, making immense sacrifices that truly show what its like to be patriotic. His interview reveals the difficulties that members of the Marine Corps faced while in Vietnam and the difficulties they faced upon returning home.


Johnson Gallery

Q: This is Amanda Pontbriand and Maria Pantelis’ interview and today’s date is May 6, 2006. Could you please state your name?

Mr. Johnson: James Russell Johnson

Q: Where were you born?

Mr. Johnson: [Luxborg], South Carolina.

Q: Do you know the date of your birth?

Mr. Johnson: February 7, 1942

Q: Could you describe where you grew up and what your childhood was like?

Mr. Johnson: Well, I partially grew up in South Carolina up to the age of about five years old, and then my mother and my stepfather, they moved to [Wilmington], North Carolina, and then eventually they moved from there to Boston, and there I have resided in up until the point that I joined the Marine Corps.

Q: What did your parents do for work?

Mr. Johnson: My mother, she cleaned houses, she was a housemaid in Brookline and my stepfather, he worked labor jobs.

Q: Did you have any siblings?

Mr. Johnson: Yes, I had three brothers and one sister. Unbeknown to me, I had another brother. That was a total of five of us, four boys and one girl, and unbeknown to me for years because my mother had me and my next brother over from me at a very young age, and back then they were not able to support both of us, so she was given a choice of giving me or my other brother up. Fortunately she gave him up to a well to do family and kept me because of me being the oldest. And like I said, back in those days there it was very hard on a black family and a young woman that was 16 years old; approximately that’s when I think she had me, and then my brother about another year and a half later. So it was very hard for a black family to make it back then so this is why she forced to give my other brother up. And then I ended up assisting her once we got to Boston, and raising my other two brothers and sister.

Q: Was it especially hard for you since you were black in South Carolina or was it just the hard times?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah, well actually I didn’t know hard times as such as the color barrier after moving here to Boston, but after joining the Marine Corps, and then going to boot camp in South Carolina, and then being stationed in North Carolina was the first time I got a shocking wake-up call, ‘cause it was the first time when I stepped of the bus in Jacksonville, North Carolina to report into Camp [Legeune], North Carolina, was the first time I ever seen “white only” here and “colored only” here.

Q: So do you think that that you were not used to this mostly because you were in Boston and you would have been more used to it if you were down South?

Mr. Johnson: Well, yeah. Now you see, down south I wasn’t raised around there, and my mother always preached that “ I don’t care what color you are, your still somebody” so consequently, it was a shocking factor to me when I got down there; and then on top of that after reporting in, the first time I was allowed to go off base, well, I found that white had one side of town that they went on liberty, and blacks had another side, what we call “across the tracks,” where they went on liberty. And in fact, white marines where on one side and black marines were on the other side until we had a General come along in my time being stationed there, and he shut the whole base down and said “ Hey, if black marines and white marines cant mingle as marines then I wont allow them to pull liberty out there” in Jacksonville, North Carolina. This town depended on that base because the majority of the money that this town made came from that base. So when he did that, that was about a week, and about a week or so latter City Council and everybody came marching in there from Jacksonville and saying “Hey, we’ll open up the town to all the black and white marines.”

Q: Do you remember his name at all, the General’s name I mean?

Mr. Johnson: No, I know this happened though, for a fact.

Q: Were any of your family involved in any other wars, or where you the first one?

Mr. Johnson: Well. I had a couple of uncles that were in the Korean War but to my knowledge, they didn’t see combat. And back in them days there, and talking to them things were basically a lot harder on them than it was on me by the time I went in because I was just born in 1942, and you go back there to the ‘30’s for what they saw and did and times were really a lot harder, ‘cause blacks wasn’t allowed to, regardless of participating in the military, they could still go home but they couldn’t go to certain parts of town, and so forth and they were hackled when they went overseas, they were told, by the whites who told the foreigners and so forth that blacks had tails and so forth, all kinds of off the wall stories. I mean they really had it a lot rougher than I did and other guys by the time I came into the service.

Q: Did your family believe in the role of the military at all?
Did they support you when you decided to go enlist?

Mr. Johnson: Well, my mother supported me all the way down the line from day one. In fact, one time, she got notification that I had been killed in combat, and we came to find out that they had the wrong James R. Johnson. But, they had already sent, you see, the Marine Corps sends a corpsman, a corpsman is like a doctor to us, for guys in what we call a line company, and a grunt company. Each platoon has a corpsman assigned to it, and this guy he’s like a doctor to us and so there was the corpsman and an officer, or either he was a high-ranking enlisted man that came and knocked on my mother’s door. Now one of my brothers, he’s still here in Boston, he still remembers them coming, in full dress uniform, and knocking on the door and telling my mother that I was deceased. And my mother she refused to believe it, and she was right. I didn’t understand till I got back from overseas. So when I got back, I found out what had happened, but in the meantime, what they required me to do, I was on a mission, and what we call a mission back then, I was in recon. And again like I said, we worked in four to eight man teams so they cancelled our mission out and called us back in when they found out the mistake had been made. And when I got off the chopper, they were running around, and I was just a little lance corporal then, the E-3, and they were running around, and they said “well which one of you guys is Lance Corporal Johnson, James R. Johnson” and I said “ Me sir” and he snatched me up. We had been out for about a week now, been out in the jungle. And our main mission in that unit, we didn’t go out to get, and find the enemy, but for them to find us. We went out to find them and to report back how big a unit they were, and where they where, and that’s it. We were to small [of] a unit to make contact. Everybody outnumbered us; four guys, eight guys. So, they said, “well, ok” [and] they snatched me up, and they took me to the COC Bunker, Command Operation Center, and said, “ok, sit down, take your pack off, helmet, and all that.” Although we didn’t wear helmets, we didn’t wear fly jackets, ‘cause we were light, we had to travel light. They said, “Sit down and write your mother at least a three page letter.” “WHAT, what are you talking about?” “Sit down and write your mother a three page letter, here, you want some water, you want a beer? What you want?” “First of all, I wanna know what all this is about.” “Don’t you worry about that, sit down and write your mother.” So I scrapped out about a page and a half and they said, “OK, that’s good.” So they sent the letter off, they said, “Ok, now when your now mother gets this letter she’ll reply, and her reply will be sent to you wherever you’re at right quick. But she’s gonna get this letter here right quick.” And then I left it at that, and like I said, it was months later, after I came back to the states, before I found out what they did. They had made a mistake and thought I was another guy, who was another guy who got killed.

Q: Your mother must have been happy that you were alive.
Mr. Johnson: Well see, my mother refused to believe it, see, that was the morale of the story. The one person that always stuck behind me was my mother. You see, to me, she was the heart of me. And this is why I deeply feel that you young folks today should understand one thing, you only get one set, one chance at life, with a mother and a father, you cant replace those two people in life. You know, I’ve heard people make statements “Well, I’ll be glad when my mother passes, and when my father passes”, and this is all about money, ok? “Cause I’m gonna get this, I’m gonna get that” and these people I look at, and I have to walk away from them, because as I said, nobody else had faith in me, my mother did, all the way to her grave. Always to the day I came back home. My great grandmother, when she passed, she passed in a nursing home about a year ago. She was 99, and the day that I came back to Boston, and I walked in that nursing home she looked up and saw me, tears rolled out of her eyes, and all she could say was James Russell. Southern folks have a bad habit of, combining your first name and your middle name together, so I grew up being called, James Russell. That was it. And when she laid and looked up to see me, then she say “James Russell, Is that you? ” I say “Yes, ma’am”. That was it. That made her day right there. But she died shortly after, because they called me back into service, after, for Desert Storm. And I begged my relatives not to tell her they called me back into the service. One of my cousins, girl cousins, because she had an insurance policy on my grandmother went up there and told her they called me back into the service. She was dead within two days. Just like that. To this day I resent my cousin ‘cause she killed her. I firmly believe that my grandmother would still be living to this day to a certain degree, or outlived her another year or so if my cousin hadn’t went up and told her. What’cha got next?

Q: Where did you attend high school, or finish high school? Or did you? What were your high school experiences like?

Mr. Johnson: What did I do at high school here in Boston? I only made it to 11 and a half, they say half, 11th grade. I got my GED in the service.

Q: What were those days like for you? You know, your younger years, your school years?

Mr. Johnson: Well, because of the fact that, like I said, my brothers and sister were all younger than me, 15 years or 16 years younger than me. My mother was getting up on Brookline to clean houses, to make ends meet, and I being the oldest, I get up and I’d get my brothers and sister dressed and everything and then take them to school, drop them off at school, then I’d go to school. Then I’d get out of school, and I’d come back and pick them up from school. And then I’d take them home, change from their school clothes, into their play clothes. I’d then take them out to play until my mother got home. And mother would get home; she’d cook a meal, and everything, and clean it up. I’d help her clean house and she’d set us up for the night; pajamas and what not.

Q: They must have loved you as an older brother.
Mr. Johnson: They did. Well see, that was another factor when I went into the service, they cried. In fact, after I got out of the service, and then I got back, they followed me for legal, cause they all looked up to me. I was always the one there for them you see, when my mother was out busy working. Not to say my mother wasn’t there for us, but she was busy working, she’d come home, she’d cook a meal, and she’d clean up the house or whatever. I’d try and do my best to help her here or there. And uh, she used to take us shopping down to Haymarket Square, which you guys wouldn’t be familiar with now, Haymarket Square used to be down near, let’s see…

Q: Near the old State House, right?

Mr. Johnson: Yea. It’s on, well at one time it used to be all cobblestone streets, and I mean about a good mile or so, both sides. And people would go down there and buy their fruit, which they still do today. A section of it, we used to go down there and my mother would go shopping, we’d sit up on the throwaway pile. And we’d call it the throwaway pile therefore if an apple had a bruise on it; they’d throw it over on this pile. Well me and my brothers and sisters would sit there and we’d be full by the time my mother got through shopping. We’d be full by just eating those throwaways.

Q: As a teenager, were you aware of world events that were going on? What was going on politically?

Mr. Johnson: When I was what, in the service?

Q: A teenager in high school.

Mr. Johnson: Well, I wasn’t that much up on, up to date on the major events per se, you know. I was aware of you know, when I say major events, political, I wasn’t really into that. And even school activities. The Martin Luther King march, and so forth, I was aware of all that and so on. But I really wasn’t per se, one way or the other. Because like I said, my mother was always strict on that. Just cause that person is black, don’t mean that’s a bad person. Just cause that person is white, don’t mean that person is a bad person, you see. So it would always, she’d always push the point don’t judge a person by their color. Or don’t judge a person by their looks. I came from what you call my grandmother, my mother, what you call old Southern Baptist. My grandmother, when she was able to do it, I’d go over every Sunday. Me and her would go to church. And the old Southern Baptist churches, people would get up and holler and scream, and they’d fall out, and you thought they were having a heart attack. But basically, that’s how we were raised. But in my brothers’ and sisters’ case, when I left and went in the service, it was like a heartbreak for them. And just like you said yourself, I was their bigger brother, and they were used to having me around, or me telling them what to do, or me going have to track them down, when it was time for them to come home and eat.

Q: I know you already answered this, but just to clarify it, what were your opinions on the Civil Rights Movement?
You said you were far removed from it.

Mr. Johnson: Like I said, I really didn’t have any, between what I was raised with at home, and by the time I got in the military, then being told that politics, religion leave it alone. And to this day, I prefer to leave it just like that. Because politics and religion has no bearing for a soldier, per se. In my mind, because this is the way I have been trained, from home, to a military life. Some people say brainwash, but no. Just like this you call the border crossing, what you call it?

Q: Border Control? Immigrants? Immigration?

Mr. Johnson: Immigration. Just like immigration. I have no say so I don’t know what I have to say about that. No, two things, really. First, don’t try and change the national anthem. Please don’t do that. The next one is if you are going to crucify everyone that’s crossing the border cause the Mexican aren’t the only ones. We got Irish, we got Greeks, and immigrants of all different nationalities are coming here illegal.

Q: When did you hear about the Cold War?

Mr. Johnson: The Cold War? I heard about the Cold War during the Cuban Crisis. I went into the Marine Corps in 1960, the Cuban Crisis erupted in ’61, ‘62. That’s when I got alerted to that. I was in Camp [Lejeune] in North Carolina. They flew us from Camp [Lejeune] North Carolina to Miami Beach. We eventually boarded carriers there and spent approximately 60 days on ship, floating around Cuba. And that’s when I found out what the Cold War was all about.

Q: Did you have any fears about Communism? Did you dislike Communism?

Mr. Johnson: Well, that’s just it; I barely knew what we were talking about there. And when I did have it explained to me in certain pieces here, I did search and find out what we are talking about here. I thought Communism… Communists associated with dictatorships. So again, I looked at it as if you’re taking somebody’s rights away.

Q: What do you recall about the general state of the country as you came of age from teenager to serviceman?

Mr. Johnson: Let’s see, you saying what do I see…

Q: Do you think the country was united in their fight against this?

Mr. Johnson: Well, from Vietnam to this era right now, I would say are two critical times our country in turmoil amongst our citizens, our people.

Q: When were those times?

Mr. Johnson: Vietnam and Iraq.

Q: If anything, do you remember the Korean War and your uncles going? or President Eisenhower?

Mr. Johnson: I remember a lot of it from historical, like I said I watch a lot of military channels. I get a lot from there. I also read a lot when I got out of the service about Korea and so forth. Korea is one of, to me, one of the worst fought wars for our servicemen. I’ve been to Korea. The ground was frozen, we had bombs hit the ground, and they just made a little dent. These guys in the Marine Corps, they fought in the [Calnan] Reservoir. This is why the historical battle took place in real life. It was so cold that the water in their canteens froze. They survived for many days off of Tootsie Rolls.

Q: What was the name of the battle?

Mr. Johnson: Chosen Reservoir. Go to the library, I’m pretty sure you can look it up; it’s listed there.

Q: Do you have any personal views or opinions on President John F Kennedy?

Mr. Johnson: I think he was one of the better presidents that we had. And when I said that, whom do I compare him with. Going back in history, I have no one to compare him to. He done a lot, in a way I admire him for when his term of president. His civil rights were huge. He was a guy who had his back up against the wall, and that was a big thing then. It’s amazing that he was able to pull it off as he did. But I believe to this day that he was assassinated and his brother, Robert was assassinated to eliminate them from going any further into the presidency.

Q: So you remember the assassinations?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah, I definitely remember them.

Q: Do you remember where you were when they were assassinated?

Mr. Johnson: I was in the Marine barracks. The reason I remember it so distinctly, there was a detachment of the Marines, of 75 of us, and 200 some odd sailors there. There was a missile sight base they used to use as a tracking missile shot out of Cape Kennedy. The day we got the word that he had been assassinated they had to run the holiday flag. Holiday flag is, lets take this rug here, and put another one that way there, and put two that way there, and that was a holiday flag. It so happens that it rained like hell that day. We brought it up and we had to bring it down at sunset. Now, it had rained all day, and the cloth, the flag was made out of silk, we had to take this flag down, it took 12 of us we had to bring it down and we had to keep it from hitting the ground. By rights, if a flag hits the deck, hits the ground, you had to burn it. You destroy it right then and there, so we had to be careful not to let it hit the ground. We had a [65] truck come and put it in the back of it. We had an arcade in the center of the barracks. The barracks is like square and the arcade is in the middle, it is open. It’s covered with plastic gauze, ceiling like. About six of them laid out on the carpet there in the arcade.

Q: Back to high school, were your plans to finish your eleventh grade year and go into the army or marines?
Or did you have any other plans?

Mr. Johnson: I never made it to high school. Once I got in the first tour, I signed up for another six. Unfortunately, after I signed up for another six, that’s when Vietnam broke out.

Q: When did you first hear about the conflict in Vietnam?

Mr. Johnson: Actually, in ‘64. When I first heard about us having troops. Actually, we had troops there way before that. When I first heard about it was in’ 64

Q: How did you hear about it? Do you remember how you learned about it?

Mr. Johnson: I heard it through the grapevine. It wasn’t something that everyone was supposed to know. Sooner or later that we were going to be committed into a larger force. At that time, earlier days they had Green Berets there as early advisors. But they were talking about sending in larger forces. You see, with the Marine Corps, if you ever notice, whenever something happens they send the Marines in first, because the marines can be sent anywhere without a declaration of war. They can send the Marines anywhere without a declaration of war. You can’t send an army in though. But you can send the Marines in anywhere. It’s like the Mediterranean; we used to keep what we used to call in my day, a BLT, a Battalion Landing Team. This consisted of about a thousand Marines, attachments; attachments being tanks, artillery and all that. Today they call it something different. But it is the same thing basically. We keep a BLT in the Mediterranean at all times. We used to keep one in the Caribbean. Then we keep a Navel Cruise. Our Armed forces get together with foreign forces. So back in the earlier days…[taped stopped recording]

Q: Can you describe what Basic Training was like?

Mr. Johnson: It’s a lot rougher then it is now. The requirements back then, were way more strenuous then they are today. Not to say these guys don’t have it hard. But it’s nowhere near the training cycle I had to go through back then, in Parris Island, South Carolina. Parris Island S.C. is one way on, one way off. There is one way going on the base, and one way coming off; the same road. To try to escape other than going through the main gate is almost impossible. People would try it and didn’t succeed. Because the simple fact that Parris Island is surrounded by swamps. Ideally, this is why the Marine Corps bought it. It cost them $1.00. They bought Camp [Lejune], N.C., and this is a big base, believe me. This could house over 10,000 marines. They bought it for a $1.00. From Jacksonville, N.C. they bought it from the state. It was so easy because they profited from it by staying there. They profited from it, believe me. This is, these bases, Camp Pendleton, it was a land grant given to the Marine Corps.

Q: Which camp?

Mr. Johnson: Camp Pendleton. It was a land grant given to the Marine Corps, only the Marine Corps. This land grant stipulated that only Marine Corps maintains that base.

Q: Could you give some examples, why do you think it was harder to train?

Mr. Johnson: Well, let’s see. It wasn’t nothing, like we used to call back then, the grinder. In Parris Island, S.C. We marched on that field. And it could be easily be 90, 110 easily, in heat. On top of that, it’s worse than heat, its what we call, muggy. Humid, real humid, because you’re surrounded by the swamp. But it’s real humid, and on top of that, how would you like to run three times around? Three times around the grinder would be about 3 miles. And then the DI’s would stop you in front of the barracks, and say, whoever has them, break them out. He’s talking about cigarettes. Who the hell wants to smoke a cigarette, after running 3 miles around the track? I tried to smoke two or three cigarettes prior to going into the service and then I didn’t, I drank a little wine before I went in. I really didn’t pick up on smoking until 21, 22 years old. I really wasn’t smoking that much even then. Drinking, mostly beer. Hard stuff, I did not drink that much of at that time. Back to the drill field, it was a totally different think. We ran in boots, these guys today are running in sneakers and shorts. We ran in full dress uniform. We lined up for chow, you went into chow, and you ate anything you got on that plate. At that time, you had a metal tray. You ate. A DI was standing there at the end of the line where you dump your tray, and he made sure you ate everything that was on that tray. You didn’t throw no food away. So they were a lot stricter. The Marine Corps Boot Camp changed after the McKeon incident. The McKeon incident happened sometime around the early 60’s. A DI went out and got drunk, and he came back to the barracks, woke his platoon up, and had them get dressed. He marched them out into the swamp. Well, he [was] killed; well he was responsible for about 3 or 4 of those guys drowning. This is at night, late at night, plus he’s drunk, these Marines, there in their boots, there doing what they are trained to do. This is down at Paris Island, SC. It’s called the McKeon incident. It was named after him. That was his last name. Ever since the McKeon incident, they’ve been very strict on the DI’s. What they did was, before that happened, they didn’t have a DI school. DI’s had to be trained. After the McKeon incident, a DI had to go to DI school to prevent this from happening again. On top of that, they had people watching the DI’s. That’s how serious they got. He got court marshalled, and what not. That did happen.

Q: You talked about, you didn’t start drinking and you didn’t start smoking until you were 21. Did you see a lot of that?

Mr. Johnson: That was a problem they had, that was because my drinking and I had really increased after my first tour in Vietnam. And again, I was in a [Reconnaissance] Unit. And worked 4 to 8 men teams. After coming back from the first tour, my drinking really picked up then. Then the second tour, cause I came back, in ‘65 to ‘66. They sent me back to Camp [Lejune], NC as an instructor. Now I am teaching Marines about the jungle tactics and the Vietnamese tactics; booby traps and all that. They have a village that they made up at Camp [Lejune]. OK, a large village complex like they had. Puerto Rican kids that spoke Spanish, they used them as Viet Cong. So the Marines would get the idea of the Vietnamese village by hearing a different language. We had [tones], village [hoopsters]. They’d come in there and they’d get these kids we had. In fact, there was only me and the Master Gunnery Sergeant, and another Sergeant. Me and him are on the other side of [Candelaria]. I just met him last year, I found him after 35 years. Last time we’d seen each other was on the combat field. But the first tour was, after the first tour was when I went into heavy drinking.

Q: Did you see a lot of that also in your fellow Marines?

Mr. Johnson: No, I saw guys smoking weed but I didn’t see a whole lot of Opium being smoked by Marines. In fact, not my first tour and not my second tour. I did see a lot of marijuana, back then it was so good, get marijuana over there like a pack of cigarettes over here in the States. They got, what I used to call, Ready Roll. Now the whole time, two times I was over there, this is no lie, I smoked one joint, and I didn’t get one thing out of it. I don’t know if I was too scared, worrying if I was going to get killed, what not. But they had, what we called, they came in Ready Rolls, you could see right through it. It looked just like a cigarette, minus the filter. There’s about 10 or 20 of them in a pack. I don’t know about how much they were paying for them. At that time it must have been a lot cheaper. In fact, I know one guy, who supposedly, he shipped a sea pack before they clamped down on, a full sea bag full of weed. Because in the early days, they weren’t checking. Guys were sending back weapons, sending back marijuana, they weren’t checking. A sea bag is about that tall, fully packed. Back in those days, the sea bag, guys were not aware of what was going on, guys were shipping back a number of things, weapons to marijuana, and so forth.

Q: Had you ever heard of the theory of limited war and did you believe it?

Mr. Johnson: The Limited War was, you see, I have mixed feelings there, because in Vietnam we were limited at one time, [litinaries] of shooting. What they would tell us, there’s no fire zone over here. In other words, we couldn’t shoot in that area over there. Now we could see the enemy, but we couldn’t shoot them.

Q: Why did they do that?

Mr. Johnson: Young lady, to this day, I am still shaking my head trying to figure this out. But there was, the Air Force bombing Hanoi, they were restricted to certain places they could bomb, [and] they couldn’t bomb. The same thing with us on the ground; there were certain areas that we couldn’t shoot. One particular patrol that was on, we saw what we call a [stet squad]

Q: What’s that?

Mr. Johnson: This is the Viet Cong consisting of anywhere from 4 or 5 or maybe more guerrillas. They go in to blow up a plane on a base, an Air Force Base. We’re sitting up on a hill, calling them, we’re telling them hey, we see -- it’s broad daylight-- we see 4 or 5 little guys in black pajamas carrying such and such weapons heading towards them. No fire zone. At night, the Air Force base gets hit. And we know cause we’d seen these guys. We know that’s that same squad. [Salas quad], that would be suicidal. Like you got going on in Iraq today. These are people that run in there and are strapped down with all kinds of bombs and explosives on their body and run and blow themselves up, and you. [Saves].

Q: What was it like when you first arrived in Vietnam?

Mr. Johnson: First off, my first thought was will I make it?
After a while, some guys would automatically nail you as a new guy. Well, you stood out as a new guy. Some guys had been in the country, we call in country, and they had been there for a while. You could tell the difference between a guy who had just got there and a guy who had been there for a while. One of the big things about being the new guy the old guy felt compelled to teach you and show you the ropes, which was good. Which is more or less like “taking you under his wing” and so forth. I think back on it, I was very fortunate because being as tall and big as I was, it was amazing that I never got hit, I’ve been hit a few times, that I call scratches compared to a guy that is losing his arm or losing his leg, losing half his head. I didn’t even bother to feel. If I tried claiming every scratch I got I would half a dozen Purple Hearts.

Q: When you arrived there did you know what you were fighting for?

Mr. Johnson: Supposedly for the freedom of the South Vietnamese from the North Vietnamese. They are equated with the situation we have now in South Korea and North Korea. South Korea don’t want to be a part of North Korea, just like Germany didn’t have the wall there dividing Germany. You had your eastern section and you had your western section. Bottom line is I was there to assist these people into gaining their freedom.

Q: Did you believe in the “Domino Theory”?

Mr. Johnson: Once I did get to understand the meaning of the “Domino Theory” I would say no, not necessarily.

Q: So you didn’t believe that Cambodia or Laos would fall?

Mr. Johnson: No

Q: The NVA and VC fought hard against the US forces; did you see them as primarily as communist seeking to spread their political system, or nationalist trying to get rid of foreign presence?

Mr. Johnson: I saw them as communist. I viewed it as communist propaganda all the way down the line. It was like Cuba, the Cuban Crisis. To this day Castro is preaching communist. He rules the country, so to go back to this dictatorship deal, and that what he is. He’s dictating what people will do and what they can’t do. Just like people want to leave there and come to the United States. They just want to come here for a short while or even if they just want to come here and stay here, he’s controlling what they can do and what they can’t do. That’s dictatorship to me. I was in, unfortunately, we stopped in the Mediterranean, Dominican Republic, they had a dictator named [Truolio]. They just ousted him. On this ship that we was on was a troop carrier. So you could go up on what they called O2, O3, O4 level, now anything above the deck, the main deck of the ship, and that’s where it went from 1, 2, 3. You could go up along on the O3, and when we were tied up on the dock there, look over at the prison yard, and every day at noon they hung a guy. First day I saw a guy hung, I never went back up there again.

Q: So you wouldn’t be able to sympathize with the VC then?

Mr. Johnson: No. War is war. I learn, at first I had a lot of hate, and then I learned to live with it. They were just like us; they were fighting for what they believed. I learned to get that hate out of me. Again, I go back to what my mother said. Hate is a strong word, and it is a bad word to use. If you use it, make sure you know why you’re using it. “I hate that person”… why do you hate that person? Just cause he was a Vietcong? Or NVA? I fought against him; Unbeknown to a lot of people is that we train a majority of all these foreign forces. Okay, and unfortunately some of them turned against us. But we, as the free people of the United States, we sacrifice ourselves to maintain freedom for a lot of other folks.

Q: So, generally you would say you were there to further fight for people’s freedom?

Mr. Johnson: It’s been said, you see communist, especially in Vietnam, my second tour, I was a sergeant then. First tour I was being lead, second tour I was doing the leading. And there is a big difference. When you’re leading, and your responsible, your responsible for their lives, you are more or less making life changing decisions. Who lives and who dies?
You tend to look back in later years and ask yourself “did I make the right decision?
Was I responsible for this guy getting killed?

Q: During down time, how did you spend your time?
Did you count the days till your departure?
Mr. Johnson: Down time, my first tour, what we called “down time” that was, we would go out, two weeks straight with no problem. We would get re-supplied, then we would have to go from point A to point B, and then get re-supplied at point C. And then stay out another week or so, and when we got back to camp, our tent was down here, and the generals tent was up here, and quite nicely when it rained the rain would come down. Our shower was a couple pieces of bamboo stuck up there, and a base of a rock, and then you had a shower. Come back in our clothes and boots that we had on for a week or two. We were all dead tired and we were talking about sleep, and we had been out for two weeks or so, and so if you combine we were lucky if we had two hundred hours of sleep.

Q: So downtime didn’t even exist?

Mr. Johnson: So when we got back we just sleep, basically for the first day and night when we got up and then cleaned up and shaved our beards and the next thing we knew we were back out again.

Q: Did that make you…?

Mr. Johnson: Well see, you have to understand when I saw [Recutlis Unit]. We were the eyes and ears of the other unit. Okay, that’s why we didn’t go out to make contact. We would go out there find out where they were and report back.

Q: What would you say was the hardest part of combat?

Mr. Johnson: Well, I’d say, a guy got killed that you knew very well. That was the hardest part, not even killed but wounded. Having a friend get hurt, that was the hardest part; especially if you knew that person very well.

Q: Would you say that you more in fear of someone else getting killed than in fear of you yourself getting killed?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah.

Q: Do you think that when you were in basic training that they were training you not to have reaction and emotions to things that happened in the war?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah. They can train you, all they want, but emotion will always be there. It might not happen right then, in my case, years later it took effect, and you think about, like I say years later. But, as far as certain cases, I wished it were me.

Q: What were the “search and destroy” like?

Mr. Johnson: Well the second tour, the platoon sergeant, were just what they meant. You were searching and then you were destroying. Material factor was mainly what you were to destroy. Hopefully you wouldn’t have to come in contact with many civilians. You have to remember that these people here, just like the people right now in Iraq, they know that we, as American people, we are very sensitive to two things, kids and females. They know that we are very sensitive to this factor and they will use that against us in a heartbeat. They have proven that in Vietnam and they have proven that now in Iraq. Don’t think for a minute that that kid that walks up to you in the street, that could be very innocent and not know what’s going on, could be strapped down with a half pound of TNT. They will blow themselves up and then you. Then they say casualties of war. I know you will ask about it so My Lai, I’ve never seen anything like My Lai. Heard about, I was around, but I have never seen or participated in it or had anything to do with it.

Q: Do you believe that it happened?

Mr. Johnson: My Lai?
I’m certain it probably did but not on the scale it was blown up to be. Now mistakes have been made in war, we have killed our own in war; we’ve made the mistake of taking peoples lives.

Q: How did you feel about the enemy combatants?

Mr. Johnson: I think that their tactics were wrong, dead wrong. You see you put the fighting person in a weird situation because how am I going to be able to trust this women and or kid walking up to me and asking if they can have a piece of candy or something, am I going to be able to trust them?
I don’t know.

Q: Did you witness any reasons to not trust them?

Mr. Johnson: At times, they made contact, and we would let them to get within a hundred yards of us.

Q: So you couldn’t even distinguish between them?

Mr. Johnson: It’s hard, to say who’s who when you know they say “Everyone whose black looks alike” well it was the same for them. But then they all look alike and so you couldn’t trust them. The bottom line was that you couldn’t trust them.

Q: Do you think that compared to the morale of your people in the beginning, do you think that this affected their morale near the end?

Mr. Johnson: In my two tours of Vietnam, the one thing that I never had no problem with was with all the marines around me was the morale factor. I only saw, one occasion and that was when they called me back from “Desert Storm”, I had one guy refuse, a guy from my firing range, say “Hey, I ain’t goin', I quit.” I say, “You don’t quit, you in the Marine Corps son, you signed a contract, you can’t quit.” And he looked at me, and this other sergeant, a staff sergeant, took him over and talked to him for a while, and he said okay I’ll go. Well what happened was this staff sergeant took him over to the corner and talked to him and he came back and said “Hey you see that guy over there, that guy spent two tours in Vietnam, and you are going to stand here and tell him you aren’t going to fight?

Q: You told us that you were in a position in command during your second tour.

Mr. Johnson: During the second tour I was a platoon sergeant. Now normally I would have a lieutenant; I would have him the whole second tour. I went back, when I went to check in, check in with the company, they were just coming out of [Lace] City. Lace City was a big battle for the Marine Corps at that time. We took a beating there, big time. They were finally able to, they called it the Tet Offense. I was singed to a platoon. I was supposed E5 sergeant. There was a sergeant already there, patrolling the platoon, and he was supposed to rotate back to the states in a couple months. So I was assigned a platoon to get familiar with the troops. And being on my second tour they were all very familiar that I had been to Vietnam, and I had been recon, I had been worked, in what I call and eye core area of Vietnam. So, what happened was to cut it real short, I was assigned to be a platoon sergeant and this other sergeant was already there, but when he rotated, or when he was due to rotate, was in a couple of months. Meantime, we left [Whey] City, and we went to another area of the eye core. What happened was, there was another unit that got over run. So the NVA had half the hill and they had half the hill. So what happened was, they moved us in at night to try to reinforce that company. And unbeknown to the NVA, the company that was overrun was on one hill, and we were on the knoll of another hill and then you got a little saddle in between the two hills, so we set up over there getting ready to move in at night, to reinforce the other company. Well, unbeknown to the NVA, a couple of them came traveling through that night, like they was just ditty bopping right on past us. Both of them got killed. So now, because of that, they held off on making a move over onto the next hill, because they figured that this had alerted the main force of the NVA that we were over there on that hill, but apparently they didn’t take need to that, so the following night we made the move to go over and reinforce the other company. And doing so, and like I said half the hill had already been taken by the NVA, the platoon sergeant, that I was supposed to be relieving, he was the second or third man leading into the trench line to reinforce the company. Well he got hit, and as soon as he got hit, I was on the rear and everybody past the word back, “Sergeant Johnson up, sergeant Johnson up!” I got up there and found out that he got hit, in the leg, so they med-evacuated him back to the rear of the hill. Then I take the rest of the platoon, lead them at the base of where, the quarter of the hill we had, and lead them in there. Then the company commanders passed the word that we were going to stand up and were going to take the hill back. I go and find the company commander and told him “Sir, that’s suicide. They’re looking down on us and were going to go charging up that hill. Were going to look like dogs. Only way we’re going to go back up that hill is we’re going to have to crawl.” So what happened was, we started at about approximately nine o’clock that night to retake the hill. And doing so, one of the bunkers that the company had was overrun, and now the NVA had it. So now, the right flank couldn’t advance because they had that bunker. So I sent out three guys, one of them, a law; a law is and anti-tank weapon; comes out like that and then the sight flips up and you aim it, and then you shoot it. I sent three guys up, I passed the word on to the rest of the line that these guys were going out and coming back to aim down on that bunker and knock that bunker out, which they did. Then they came back. When they came back, the two guys were carrying the third guy in a poncho. He got hit. They killed him. The bullet grazed his helmet, right across the temple, enough that it killed him, just grazed him. This kid was from New York, never forget it. I used to tell him about his helmet. He always used to wear it cocked to the side “Wear the helmet like it should be.” and to this day I believe that’s what got him killed. He had the helmet bent to the side, even though he had to fire that weapon, he had the helmet bent to the side. So when the bullet struck him, if he had had the helmet on his head straight, it would have nine out of ten hit the helmet and deflected. So that was one of a few cases. And regaining the hill that night, unbeknown to me until daybreak the next morning, we regained the hill, and then the NVA retreated and then it was a bunker where they had overrun, they had taken satchel chargers. A satchel charge is about the size of your recorder there, and they had thrown them in there to explode the bunker, but they hadn’t exploded. Now we got guys in the bunker yelling “Hey, we’re marines, we’re marines!” Now how they got overrun in the first place was that a patrol that was sent out, down at the base of the hill, got overrun and got wiped out. One kid made it back to the line, but he was killed right there, under fire. Now the NVA stripped these guys of their helmets and their [flap] jackets. And then somehow or another, they were Spanish speaking, they were able to penetrate the lines and that’s how they overran the hill and how they got in the lines. Now these guys they were in the bunker, we didn’t know if they were NVA or if American marines. So the only thing I could think of, to verify who they were was to sing the Marine Corps hymn. I’m thinking, “Hey, ain’t to many NVA know that one.” And these guys started singing the Marine Corps hymn in good fashion. And that’s how we got around it.

Q: During Johnson’s term of office, which was from 1963 to 1968, he greatly escalated American troop levels to 520,000 people by 1967 to 1968. Did you think that we, the country were doing enough to win the war?

Mr. Johnson: Well, the biggest problem we had was, again all this I found out later on, when I was able to get back home and sit down and really get an understanding of what was going on, what’s been going on, is that they were controlling the war from back here from the White House. Nobody was listening to these guys, the generals that are on the front lines. They were telling them what to do, from back here. And some guy, some genius that was supposedly supposed to be able to predict what was going to happen in war and so forth, wrong. He had no idea, they had no idea what the hell was going on and they didn’t listen to the generals. Just like Iraq, Colin Powell came out here not too long ago, a few days ago and he said, “I tried to tell President Bush to send more troops than we did initially.” In other words it’s better to send more than less, and if we send too many, then we can always bring them back. So now, you’ve uncommitted yourself and now you can’t commit more troops because now everybody’s hollering that “Hey, bring the troops home.” See?

Q: What did winning the war look like to you?

Mr. Johnson: In which way? We didn’t win Vietnam.

Q: How do you think we could have won the war?

Mr. Johnson: First off, we could have won it had we put forth full force. Like I told you, we were restricted on where we could shoot and where we couldn’t. At the same token, the Air Force was restricted on where they could bomb and where they couldn’t bomb. So we were fighting with one hand tied behind our backs.

Q: Do you believe it was a war against an ideal or do you believe it was a war against something concrete, a war against an enemy?

Mr. Johnson: I think it was more of a war, again once I got back and I was able to get more detail, and more knowledge of what the hell I was doing over there, and what it was all about, I think it was more political than anything. Simple fact. But proven fact, if you go back further than that, if you go back to President Truman and McArthur was general. When McArthur wanted to go into Indochina and go right through it, Truman said no and he pulled him back out. Now, Indochina is Vietnam, as we know it today. Now what’s going to happen here in Iraq is, basically what I see coming, is basically the same thing. Now, the bottom line is we are going to eventually end up pulling out of there. It might not be on President Bush’s watch, but the next President that takes over is going to pull out, ‘cause we’re facing a big arch here now. You got Iran, you got Pakistan, and you got Iraq. You get these three forces from these major countries together, and we got a problem, and especially if Iran comes up with nuclear capabilities.

Q: Around this time, the civil rights movement was becoming front-page news and very big. Do you think it created any racial tension between troops? You said that in boot camp there was tension but did you see any in Vietnam during combat?

Mr. Johnson: No, well, you had statements made by one marine onto another marine, black white or whatever, so forth. In fact, when I was a platoon sergeant overseas or in combat and back here in peacetime, I had that problem with my troops at one time or another, a racial problem. And I had to deal with it. So I had to take these two marines and set them aside, or I just would take the whole platoon really and say, “Hey, I don’t care what your nationality is and so forth, all I see is green, and if that’s all I see then all of you are marines.” So I threw them all in one barrel.

Q: You said there wasn’t down time, but what about leave? What was that like?

Mr. Johnson: Leave, I would take leave and come back home on occasion, ten days leave. I’ve taken leave in the station over at [Okinawa] a couple of times. I’ve taken leave to other military bases while I was in [Okinawa]. Normally, at least ten days a year I would take over here and come see my mother and so forth. I figure, at that time, we got at least sixty days leave on the books annually, for the year.

Q: As of 1967, opposition to the war was increasing at home. Did you feel that the anti-war protestors were betraying you?

Mr. Johnson: My second tour I came back into the United States at Travis Air Force Base in California. And unknowingly, I was one of those guys, nobody told me all this friction, well, we heard there was friction back here but I didn’t know it was that close to the base. Walked out the main gate, I got spit on; I got called a baby killer and all this and that. You know, I was more scared of them than I think I was when in combat.

Q: Did you here about Kent State and so forth?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah I heard about Kent State. Kent State unfortunately, to me, was a mistake. First of all, the mistake was, whoever were in charge, allowing those troops to go in with loaded weapons, armed weapons. They shouldn’t have had the ammo on them in the first place. They didn’t need it. There was no need for live ammo. You only goin’ up against stick, stones at the most. So where was the need for live ammo? There was no need. You can’t convince me that there was a need for it.

Q: Do you believe that the coverage that was given to Kent State was unfair and that more press coverage should have been given to Vietnam and the thousands of men that were dying there?

Mr. Johnson: Well, there was a lot of unfairness in Vietnam. Vietnam was one of the wars where, the guys that really weren’t given any credit for the job they did. All the mistakes, of any wrongdoing they did were broadcast more than any of the right they did. So I mean, Kent State only boosted the more ignorant factor to a lot of folks that didn’t really understand. There is a breakdown here, you got your active duty personnel, you got your inactive duty personnel, which is reserve and all branches, and then you have your national guard. Unbeknown to a lot of people, The National Guard is controlled by the state of that state. Now because of a bad decision made here a while back, when they took the draft out, which was a bad mistake and I saw it coming way before as soon as they took it out, is that there is goin’ to be a shortage of troops, which we have run into. Now this is why they were forced to go to the National Guard. In turn, you drain the National Guard of the state, so this is why New Orleans didn’t have enough appropriate people to assist them. See that is just one of many disasters that happened in the United States because we have activated the National Guard, which the president can do. The Federal government can step in and override the State and activate those National Guardsmen on active duty. But then in turn, they run into another problem, which they are trying to clear up right now. Once you took the National Guardsmen and made him active duty, when you got through with him, well he got wounded or killed in combat or what not or when you got through with him period, you send him back to the state, but he didn’t get reap no veterans benefits. Wrong. Very wrong! That guy rates just as much as the next guy.

Q: Do you think that when troops were over in Vietnam, and they heard about all the protesting and such, it made them not want to win? Instead of thinking they were over there and wanted to win, they just wanted to get out of there?

Mr. Johnson: Young lady, your always going to have, I don’t care what it is, I look at it this way, your always going to have ten percent. You’re never not goin’ to please everybody all the time. There’s always going to be ten percent that you ain't going to please. You might get ninety but you ain't getting one hundred. So I don’t care what you go through in life, always look forward to saying, “Hey, At least I got ninety percent.” Cause you not going to get one hundred percent, there is always going to be ten percent that’s goin’ to say, “I disagree”.

Q: When Nixon was elected in 1968, he promised “Peace with Honor” which was to gradually turn the war over to the South Vietnamese ARVN forces. Did that seem like a good idea at the time?

Mr. Johnson: By the time I heard about it, it had come and gone. They were very incapable at that time, of handling it anyway. See, another lesson that we should have taken heed to is before we ever went into Vietnam there was two other countries that went into Vietnam. France went in there and tried to take control and there was China, and both of them failed.

Q: When all the combat was over and done and you and the forces were ready to come home, how did it feel?

Mr. Johnson: Well troops, well for me, combat is never over, because I, its like, to do stuff with these guys every day and one of them gets killed or one of them gets wounded, I live with it every day.

Q: You told us about how you felt towards the Vietnamese, but do you know how they felt towards you?
When you were there, how did you see them react to you?

Mr. Johnson: You could say that the greater population gave me the feeling that they were glad you were there, but then again you got to understand, they were being played by two sides. They were trying to please us; at the same token they had to please the communist side. Just like, when the lights went out after dark, that’s when the Viet Cong and the NVA came in.

Q: You told us about the Mai Lai Massacre; did you see this as the classic example of American presence and our tactics?

Mr. Johnson: Well, see that’s just it. Command, or what I call command decisions, should be left up entirely to the individual in command at the time. And, I give you your prime example when we are talking about ships being taken; the Pueblo crisis. Now this was a spy ship we had that was taken in by the North Koreans if I’m not mistaken. And they captured our ship and ordered it, and stripped it of the crew and all the intelligence equipment and so forth that may have been on the ship or whatever. And fortunately, we were able to get back all the crew I believe, but the ship, by the time we found it, I don’t know if they ever got the ship back, anyway, but I’m pretty sure it had been stripped. So, now, a lot of people blamed the captain. See, the captain of the ship, first off, we know he’s the fall guy. I don’t care what you say, once he gets out to Sea, it’s his ship and he’s to blame, but he should have never surrendered that ship. If he had to blow that ship up and abandon that ship, that’s what’s supposed to have been done, but he didn’t choose to do that, which cost him his career.

Q: You told us a little bit about the Tet Offensive, you used another word for it, but what were your perceptions of it?

Mr. Johnson: Well, the Tet Offensive, like I said, I came in on the rear of it. But these guys, it’s a citadel at the time, you’re talking about fighting within a compound, and walls were about three feet thick. You talking about, they were using the sewage, they were popping out of the sewer system. It’s like fighting within a city, they very hard to do. Well, any war, when you’re fighting in they’re territory, which they know way better than you, it harder. Just like these guys in Iraq today, they catching hell because you’re talking about going house to house. God knows which one; you kick the door in, what you might be kicking in.

Q: How did your views of the Vietnamese change over the months you served there, did it change at all, did you see them differently at all, etc.?

Mr. Johnson: Matter of fact, it was years later, after I got back here in Boston, that I first had the first couple of contacts with Vietnamese. In fact, I had a contact with a couple of cleaners living over on Hyde Park Ave. and the young lady that was serving, she saw that I had a Marine Corps jacket and she said “Oh, you was a Marine? ” I said “Yeah” She said, “You in Vietnam?” I said “Yeah” She said, “My father was in Vietnam, he was Cong in the NVA” Well, at first that didn’t go over too hot with me, but then, again like I said, why should I hate this guy, I couldn’t blame him. He was doing what he was told to do; I was doing what I was told to do. That’s all.

Q: Do you mind if we ask some harder questions?

Mr. Johnson: Go ahead.

Q: You told us about being in command and seeing people wounded around you, and killing a lot of people, did that ever make you feel detached at all?

Mr. Johnson: Like I said, you know, I’ve seen a lot of guys wounded and killed, but it is all a part of war.

Q: Have you been to the Vietnam War memorial?

Mr. Johnson: Yeah, I’ve been to the one here; they have a mobile one. It came here a couple of years ago down on the Boston Commons and I went down there. Because of the simple fact that most of the guys that I knew, that were either killed or wounded in combat, I only knew, basically, by nickname or last name. Unfortunately one guy that I knew for a fact, me and him left here together, left Boston together and rode the train down together and checked into boot camp together down there and then we got out of boot camp, and then we ended up being stationed at Trinidad, West Indies together. And I was his best man, he got married down there and his name was [Dudley Jordan], and at the time me and him were both over in Vietnam the second time, at the same time, but two different units. And he got killed, and his wife tried her best to locate me, but not knowing my full name or my Social Security number. At the time, we didn’t have our social security numbers, we had serial numbers. They didn’t come up with social security numbers till the late ‘70’s or ‘80’s, somewhere around there, before that we had our service numbers. A service number you could tell, basically, generally what part of the country, the United States the guy was from. That was a service number.

Q: So was this experience of going to the Vietnam War memorial a good one?

Mr. Johnson: Well, yeah. It has its bearing on me because, unfortunately, I was only to pick him out because I had his full name and last four digits of his social security. So I was only able to pick him out, which I’m quite sure there were many other guys on there that I had served with. In fact, I’ll tell you a little short story. My Grandkids, first time I was, my daughter, she married a Marine. And they spent six years over in [Okinawa] so then when they came back here they were stationed in [Quanko] Virginia where they are right now. And so when I was going down to visit them, because my wife she had just changed jobs so she couldn’t go, so I was going down to visit them, and my daughter told my grandkids that I was coming down to see them and the youngest grand kid, there are two girls and one boy, the youngest one, [Kiana], she said, “When Grandpa gets here, we can take him up to the wall, to see the wall, to see if his name is one it.” See, that’s innocence, that’s how innocent she is, she’s just a baby. In fact, she’s just eight now, and at the time she was just seven, or about six. But that shows you just innocence, pure innocence. She had no idea, other than the fact that she just knew that there was a wall that she had heard her mother and her father talk about and so forth.

Q: Have your ideas about the war changed from when you were a young man till today, now that you’ve experienced more and read more and thought about it?

Mr. Johnson: When you say ideas, fighting for freedom, or following orders?

Q: Just the war in general, like your perceptions of it, was it correct, what you did there?
You say you have been watching those military shows, have they made you think differently about your time over there, why you were there, and what happened while you were there?

Mr. Johnson: Well, different period of time and different people or countries that you are involved with now here. So, you know, a different era of time. But the many issues that back in my days, that we were faced with, the racial issues, the Kent State issues, the many issues that we were faced with back then when we were over there, we were really out of tune to that, because we were too busy trying to stay alive.

Q: What do you consider some of the most important lessons learned ion Vietnam for you personally?

Mr. Johnson: Well, one for a fact is the dependency on your buddy in combat. You just don’t know how precious that is until you’re in a life or death situation. So you know the truest factor that I can say that was ever said was when me and that guy had to depend on one another, believe me it was just that. And there is no getting around it. It’s just like two cops saying, or a firemen saying “Hey, that’s my second best buddy than my wife.” But, you learned to depend, your trained to depend on one another. First off, there’s no if and or buts around it. Your training is key to all of it, if you get it up here, in your training, then I’m telling you, your goin’ to survive. Now everybody’s not goin’ to survive, somebody’s goin’ to get hurt. And you know this, you just hoping it ain’t you, then again you hoping it ain’t him.

Q: What were the lessons that the nation should have learned from the conflict?

Mr. Johnson: First off, we got too quick to commit ourselves on our forces, into areas beyond our control. From Vietnam, we should have learned the lesson that if we have over committed ourselves in Iraq, and we are paying dearly. Now, so far we haven’t paid the price that we paid in Vietnam, cause your talking approximately fifty seven thousand military personnel that we lost there, that’s military personnel, we haven’t even gotten into civilian personnel that were assigned over there and so forth. Now we’re approaching, last count I got here in Iraq is twenty five hundred I think, twenty six thousand. Now again, that’s not a break down of killed, KIA and WIA that might be just a break down of killed. So there’s a big difference there, if you told about, who’s killed who’s wounded and whose missing, that’s the biggest thing your goin’ to be confronted with. In Vietnam, we’re still missing, unaccounted for, a few hundred military personnel. But then again, there is a lot that hasn’t been said there because a lot of people don’t want to talk about it. They had a disease, that we called Black Death, that they purposely, I don’t know how they did it, I don’t know if they injected the female with it or how they inserted into their bodies, but anyway, servicemen that had sexual contact with one of these females, he would come out and, give or take a week or two later, his whole groin area would turn black and that’s why we called it Black Death. I only saw one case in my whole time there, but when they caught hold of what was going on, they were given a choice. You can either, write home and tell them you ain’t coming home, or we can list you missing in action. And then they had a little island, outside of Saigon supposedly, that these guys were sent to, so as not to make contact with anybody else. So these guys are part of your missing in action, unbeknown to a lot of people. And you will find very few people that want to talk about, I probably shouldn’t be telling you right now because you’ll find very few people want to talk about it, when it comes to a very touchy subject. Another, you got a lot of guys, I wouldn’t say a lot, but you few guys that, at their own will, stay there, cause they married a Vietnamese girl or they just wanted to stay there, maybe with her.

Q: This is our final question. If there is anything you needed to say right now, that you could end it, what would it be?
Any message that you feel is important that we didn’t ask, or we didn’t cover?

Mr. Johnson: To this day I strongly believe in the American way. And I’ve heard, that probably the biggest topic in life that I’ve been confronted with is been the racial factor. I’ve been asked this by rough riding people, “How did you like it over there? How were you treated over there?” The worst country, believe it or not, and I didn’t know it till after the fact, that I’ve ever been in was South Africa. You know why, we stopped there coming back out of the Mediterranean, and the rock of Gibraltar was over to my right, and South Africa was over to my left. And I was leaning over the railing with another marine, and low and behold, the ship pulled in, and we were pulling a liberty stop there. We were supposed to have been there for a few days, I think three to five days, something I like that, I cant remember exactly, but anyway, we ended up leaving a lot sooner, I think we were only there for two days, about that long. And then we pulled up anchor and said, hey, we’re leaving. Down the road, word got out, reason we had to pull out of there, or the reason the captain says, “Hey, were pulling out.” Is cause the South Africans didn’t appreciate a person of my complexion, so its amazing now. So your talking about a race that’s darker than men and they didn’t appreciate my color, because they thought I was a mixture of white and black. So that’s all.

Q: Thank you very much for the interview. We really appreciate it.
Mr. Johnson: My pleasure.