top of page

Recollections of World War II- Hugh E. Johnston

It was December 7, 1941 when the air attack at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the United States was at war. The enlistment draft started, and I didn't like the thought of going into the Infantry---all that marching and crawling in the mud.

I enlisted in the Air Corp, but they were only taking 20 people a month. Before I was called up by the Air Corp, I was caught up in the draft. In April of 1942, I reported to the induction center for my physical. At first I didn't think I was going to pass because it took three doctors to find my pulse.

I was sent to The Presidio of Monterey , California where I was kept busy marching, K.P. duty and painting buildings. After a month of misery at Monterey, I bid the place adieu and left for greener pastures, Sheppard Field, Texas. You might be asking what I did in Texas. Well, every day in the boiling hot sun, I marched and marched. Forward march, to the rear march, to the left flank march, to the right flank, march. I didn't know my left flank from my right flank.

The next think I knew I was leaving Texas and headed for Camp Williams in Wisconsin. I could never figure out why I was stationed here. I did pull M. P. duty on the main gate, we marched a little and I repaired faucets in the latrine, which was essential to the war effort.The next assignment was Sadalia Army Air Field. Missouri, then Scott Field, Illinois, then Seymour Johnson Field, North Carolina. It must have been while I was stationed at Billie Mitchell Field, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that the Army decided to make a radio operator out of me.

I was assigned to the Trans-World Airlines School in Kansas City, Missouri. There I put in 384 hours of intensive training, learning to operate aircraft radios and other related equipment. When I answered "yes" to all the questions like, "do you get motion sickness, do you get sick on a boat or swing," I thought I'd be assigned to a control tower. But NO, I was radio operator material. After graduation I was assigned to the 20th Ferrying Group of the Air Transport Command, Nashville, Tennessee, as a flight operator.

My first training as a radio operator was on a B-24 Bomber. I wondered what I did wrong when I was selected to be the radio operator on a C-47, loaded with aircraft parts and equipment that we would fly to London, England. I was issued all the flight equipment, and I especially wondered why I was issued a 45 pistol and holster.

We took off from Miami, Florida and landed in Brazil. The next day as we taxied down the runway for lift off the pilot discovered, we had no brakes. It was the same thing the next day. The third time was the charm as the mechanics finally got it right. The next stop was the Ascension Islands out in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It is an eight hour flight from Brazil, and there was just enough fuel to go this distance. The navigator told the pilot exactly the right time to make a descent, and as we came down out of the clouds, there were the Ascension Islands---a beautiful sight to see. We took on fuel and headed for the Gold Coast of Africa and landed at Acera, Liberia, then up the coast past France. France was occupied by the Germans at that time, and we were glad when we didn't see any German planes. Now I know why I was issued a pistol. I could shoot down a German plane.

As we neared the coast of England we were picked up on radar by an English base. We had to identify ourselves, or British planes would be sent up to shoot us down. For all they know we could be an American plane captured by the Germans. I was trying to make contact with the ground station. The co-pilot was standing right behind me and kept saying, "Did you get them yet?" He was scared, and so was I. There were 15 or 20 planes all trying to contact the ground station at the same time. Trying to pick out our call sign out of all the others was very nerve racking, but I finally was able to do it---the crew all relaxed, and we had a safe landing in London.

Our crew was picked to take a beat-up B-17 back to the United States. Extra fuel tanks were installed in the bomb bay, so we could make such a long trip. We had an extra passenger---a fighter pilot who was being reassigned after serving his time in Europe. We were high over the Atlantic Ocean, and I was just ready to radio our position to the ground station when we went into a vertical dive. Talk about being scared. We dropped several thousand feet before the plane pulled out of the dive and leveled off. We found out the pilot let the fighter pilot fly the plane, and I think he forgot to tell him, "You don't fly a bomber like a fighter plane."

I was stationed in Memphis, Tennessee with the 4th Ferrying Group Air Transport Command when I got my overseas orders. Our first stop was Casablanca where I was stationed for about a month. Then I went on to Tripoli where I spent the duration of the war. I was radio operator on C47's cargo planes and occasionally on a B-24 and B-25. I never got enough sleep because the cargo planes were flying constantly, I landed an office job in the Navigation and Radio Briefing Office. I remained there until the war was over.

Do I have some stories to tell!

bottom of page