Born 25 March 1921, Ishpeming, MI (raised in Foster City, MI).  Died 13 May 1998, Kingsford, MI.  Buried at Dewitt City Cemetery, Dewitt, MI

1942 – Drafted into the U.S. Army at Marquette, MI.

1942 – 1943 – Trained at Camp White, OR, and Camp Adair, OR. Assigned to B Company 363rd Infantry, 91st (Powder River) Infantry Division.  He was one of only 37 survivors of his company..

1944 – 1945 – WWII.

How He Won the Medal of Honor

PFC Johnson practically single-handedly holding his position at his unit’s left flank in the offensive to break the German’s Gothic Line in Italy from September 16-18, 1944, after all other members of his squad had been killed or wounded.

Private Johnson’s heroism on September 16-18, 1944 was extraordinary. While serving as a mortar gunner and rifleman in the fight for Monticelli Ridge in the Apennines Mountains of northern Italy (near Scarperia), Johnson protected the left flank of his company’s position against five German paratrooper companies, and repelled six enemy attacks. He killed at least 20 enemy soldiers, was credited with capturing 25 others, and helped rescue two fellow soldiers during a two-day siege.

In an article entitled “Dickinson Native’s WWII Heroism Retold” written by Jim Anderson for the Daily News on July 12, 2000, one of the 91st Division sergeants recommended Johnson for military honors, and his recommendation was supported by an artillery observer who witnessed the events. The artillery observer says that “Johnson may be the only Medal of Honor recipient from the war who could actually be credited with far more enemy soldiers than officially recognized.” Over a three-day period he repelled six enemy attacks. With no officers remaining alive after the fight, it was left to his sergeant and the artillery observer to recommend the honors for Johnson. Fearing that the true magnitude of his heroism would be met with disbelief, they originally proposed a lower award (the Distinguished Service Cross) and fewer enemy dead than they knew to be true. According to the artillery observer, Johnson actually dispatched 42 enemy soldiers (which was ascertained by counting those who died of bullet wounds near his position, lying amidst but distinguishable from many others nearby who were dead from artillery fire). The sergeant and the artillery observer also note that originally the platoon of 32 Germans who surrendered under a white flag of truce, actually surrendered to a combat medic named Chris Christopher, who occasionally passed rifles and ammunition to Johnson. Because Christopher was a noncombatant, he could not be credited with the surrender, and in his stead, Johnson was. The artillery observer notes: “To credit Sgt. (then Pfc.) Johnson with the 42 enemy soldiers he had actually dispatched, and add the additional 32 enemy soldiers who did surrender would have been a somewhat unbelievable accomplishment even for the Medal of Honor.” His sergeant observes that he doubts an accurate judgment can be made, but admits he was conservative in the original recommendation. Johnson himself said in an article in the Lansing State Journal entitled “Winner Approves of Draft” (3-9-80): “The way they describe my role, it sounds like I might have been a little better than I was.” According to his former sergeant, an Army commander changed Johnson’s citation to the wording it has today-20 dead and 25 captured.

And hearing of his heroism, the military board of officers changed his sergeant’s original recommendation from the Distinguished Service Cross to the United States Medal of Honor awarded by the President of the United States in the name of the Congress.

1944 – He also received the Purple Heart from a subsequent battle a month later when shrapnel from a German .88 mil shell tore through his arm.  He was treated and returned to duty.  Rank: PfC, promoted to Sgt

1945 – Awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor presented by General Mark Clark to Oscar G. Johnson reads in part as follows: “He practically single-handed protected the left flank of his company’s position in the offensive to break the German’s gothic line. Company B was the extreme left assault unit of the corps. The advance was stopped by heavy fire from Monticelli Ridge, and the company took cover behind an embankment. Sgt. Johnson (then Pfc.), a mortar gunner, having expended his ammunition, assumed the duties of a rifleman. As leader of a squad of seven men, he was ordered to establish a combat post 50 yards to the left of the company to cover its exposed flank. Repeated enemy counterattacks, supported by artillery, mortar, and machinegun fire from the high ground to his front, had by the afternoon of 16 September killed or wounded all his men. Collecting weapons and ammunition from his fallen comrades, in the face of hostile fire, he held his exposed position and inflicted heavy casualties upon the enemy who several times came close enough to throw hand-grenades. On the night of 16-17 September, the enemy launched his heaviest attack on Company B, putting his greatest pressure against the lone defender of the left flank. In spite of mortar fire which crashed about him and machine-gun bullets which whipped the crest of his shallow trench, Sgt. Johnson stood erect and repulsed the attack with grenades and small-arms fire. He remained awake and on the alert throughout the night, frustrating all attempts at infiltration. On 17 September, 25 Germans soldiers surrendered to him. Two men, sent to reinforce him that afternoon, were caught in a devastating mortar and artillery barrage. With no thought of his own safety, Sgt. Johnson rushed to the shell-hole where they lay half buried and seriously wounded, covered their position by his fire, and assisted a Medical Corpsman in rendering aid. That night he secured their removal to the rear and remained on watch until his company was relieved. Five companies of a German paratroop regiment had been repeatedly committed to the attack on Company B without success. Twenty dead Germans were found in front of his position. By his heroic stand and utter disregard for personal safety, Sgt. Johnson was in a large measure responsible for defeating the enemy’s attempts to turn the exposed left flank.”

Sgt Oscar G. Johnson, Jr.

July 1945 – Discharged at Fort Sheridan, IL

1947 – Married Lawanna Abbie Wood (1921-1987) at Clinton, MI.  Children: Nancy, David L., Linda Ann, Edward, Larry

Following the war, Johnson returned to help his father on the family dairy farm in Foster City, and then completed a two-year agriculture program at what is now Michigan State University. He found work on a farm north of Lansing, met his first wife, Lawanna, at a local Grange meeting, and they settled in a white wood frame farmhouse situated on 80 acres of land 10 miles from the state capitol (near DeWitt, Michigan) and raised five children.

1950 – Enlisted in the Michigan National Guard to better support his family.  He was employed fulltime at the headquarters unit in Lansing, working as the foreman of a vehicle maintenance shop. He served  30 years in the National Guard in Lansing, retiring in 1980 at the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 4.

Corporal Oscar G. Johnson, Jr. enlistment into Michigan National Guard

He served with the following Michigan National Guard units:

  • 119th Field Artillery, 3rd Battalion
  • 46th Aviation Battalion
  • 72nd Support Battalion

CWO4 Oscar G. Johnson, Jr.

CWO4 Oscar G. Johnson, Jr., upon retirement from Michigan National Guard, 1980

Johnson returned to Kingsford in 1990, living here until his death in 1998.

Johnson was a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars posts in Felch and DeWitt, and very involved with the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He served as grand marshal for a 1994 parade in Iron Mountain that highlighted the Upper Peninsula Association of American Legion Posts’ summer convention. In May 1997, he traveled to Lansing to light the Michigan Remembrance Candle at the Capitol as part of a national campaign to renew the meaning of Memorial Day.

His other Honors include:

  • The U.S. Army Reserve Center at Fort Baker, California, was named in Johnson’s honor on July 15, 2000. The headquarters building serves the 91st Division (Training Support).
  • On November 11, 2000 – Veterans Day – a portrait of Sgt. Oscar G. Johnson, Jr., was unveiled at the Camp White Historical Museum in Camp White, Oregon, where the 91st Division was activated in 1942.
  • Oscar G. Johnson Veterans Administration Medical Center, Iron Mountain, MI
  • A 46-mile section of Michigan Highway M-69 running through Foster City was renamed the Oscar G. Johnson Memorial Highway

After 1987 he married Jane Wickman.  She died before him.