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Born to Lead


Harold Keith Johnson was born in Bowesmont, North Dakota on February 22, 1912. His life was one of service. He devoted himself to the Boy Scouts. Even as a general, he always kept a copy of the Boy Scout Handbook. He attended West Point, graduating in 1933. He was assigned to the 3rd infantry at Fort Snelling in Minnesota as a Second Lieutenant.

Johnson went on to have a distinguished career in the Army. In 1940, he served in the Philippines. He was a battalion commander when the Japanese attacked. He was taken prisoner when Bataan fell, and survived the infamous Bataan Death March. He spent the rest of World War II as a prisoner. In December 1944, the Japanese attempted to transfer 1600 prisoners out of the Philippines, including Johnson. Unaware that the ship carried prisoners, American fighter planes attacked and the ship was abandoned as it sank. Over 300 prisoners were killed. Johnson survived, eventually arriving in Japan. Later he was transferred to Korea. He was finally liberated on September 7, 1945.

Johnson returned to war in Korea, serving as a Battalion Commander of the 5thand 8thCavalry. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions. His citation referred to his “conspicuous devotion to duty and selfless conduct under enemy fire.”

In 1956 he was promoted to Colonel. After he served in Europe, he took charge of the Command and General Staff College.

In 1963 he was made Major General. In 1964, he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army. He was the youngest man to ever hold that position. He served until 1968. He oversaw the expansion of the Vietnam War, and is credited with creating the position of Sergeant Major of the Army. This is the highest ranking enlisted position. He said he created the position to improve the lives of the enlisted personnel. Those under his command revered him, saying he was born to lead and led from the front. He was never afraid of being under fire, and was known for his loyalty to the enlisted soldier.

In 1969, Johnson was appointed president of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association. He also headed the Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge. He died on this date in 1983. He was buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Arlington National Cemetery. "http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/hkjohnson.htm%20Accessed%206/21/14" http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/hkjohnson.htm Accessed 6/21/14 .

Defenders of the Philippines. Military Times Hall of Honor. "http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=7333" http://projects.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=7333 Accessed 6/21/14.National Museum of the United States Army. "https://armyhistory.org/09/general-harold-keith-johnson/" https://armyhistory.org/09/general-harold-keith-johnson/ Accessed 6/21/14.