Robert (Bob) / Virginia Johnson

Company B Marines Oral History Project


Virginia Johnson (b. 1930) VJ 

Robert M. Johnson (b. 1931) RMJ


Gina Temple-Rhodes GTR Cedar Story Services

Recorded: March 01, 2013

In her home in Esko, MN


VJ: Well, I went to Mass every day that he was gone overseas. Every morning I went, on my way to work. I went through blizzards, I walked to work, went to Mass. I had a strange experience because when I got the letter that he was out of the (Chosin) Reservoir, and I had been brought up Catholic, a really good Catholic, and I said the rosary all the time when he was gone. And he got out, I got the letter, went to Mass the next day. And I felt nothing. And I was going to go there and think and do all this. I just felt nothing. Maybe the relief of having him back; of having him out. Yeah. And then he was in the hospital. How long were you in the hospital in Japan? I did talk to him once. I saved up some money. I think it cost seventy-five dollars for (a few minutes).

RMJ: It was fifty.

VJ: No, I think it was seventy-five. For, like, what was it? It wasn’t very long. It probably was a three-minute talk, huh? Oh, yeah.

GTR: While he was in the hospital?

VJ: Yeah.

RMJ: I think I was in the Annex, then, wasn’t I?

VJ: Yeah, and it was weird to hear his voice after he had been gone, you know? And then I got a letter from him that he was coming home on his first leave. He was coming on a slow boat from Japan. It took a long time. He asked me what I thought of getting married when he got back. And I said, that sounded like a good idea. So, I went down to Bud’s and I bought myself a suit and we were going to get married in the sacristy. He didn’t know this when he was on the boat coming home. His mother decided that we can’t do that, so we had to put a white wedding together. And he didn’t know what he was getting into.

GTR: How soon after you (RMJ) got back did…

VJ: …that happen? Oh, very short, wasn’t it? We got married April 28th, 1951. It’s going to be sixty-three years in April. And yeah, it wasn’t very long at all. He got back and his mother was throwing this together and I was working and I didn’t have any money, hardly. And we pulled it off. And it was a nice wedding. But he was a wreck. He was nervous, really nervous, just really nervous. But I can’t even imagine! He just thought we were going to get married in the sacristy in a little suit. You know, I had a little suit, but it didn’t happen.

GTR: Was this just days after you got back?

VJ: Yes. It was like a week.

GTR: Wow! Did you talk about what had happened there?

VJ: When he came back? No we didn’t. Not much, did we. No, we didn’t. He didn’t talk much about it. He was a very nervous person when he got back. Just really hyper-alert all the time. And then we got married and what, you had a thirty-day leave, and then he went back to Virginia, was it?

RMJ: Yorktown.

VJ: Yorktown.

RMJ: Which was in Virginia.

VJ: And then we, I couldn’t go with him, because everything happened too fast once he got back.

GTR: You had heard enough about his time, or seen some letters to kind of know what he had been through?

VJ: Oh! Yeah, bits and pieces had come out and about the Reservoir and he came home with frostbite. But one thing he did was….I got pregnant in the next year, I think. So, he had to get a job. A lot of guys didn’t have jobs, you know, they…. but he had to get a job and get responsibility right away. Which he did.

GTR: Even with his injuries, he didn’t get any support? There wasn’t disability pay?

VJ: Nothing. There was nothing.

RMJ: Well, I did get…

VJ: Oh, you got nineteen bucks?

RMJ: When I went on my own… salary… I got ten percent disability.

VJ: Ten percent disability! And when these guys just in these last few years applied for disability, proper disability, they had to talk each other into doing it, because it was really a process. He had to go twice. Back then, there was very little care for your feet. We didn’t know what to do about that, what to do about them, and what to do about everything. In the Vietnam War, I talked to somebody whose husband came home and before he came home, there was all this literature of what to expect. How they were going to be, what to expect. And I thought, wow, there wasn’t anything like that. He came home and I was working, and he borrowed a car and he came down and picked me up.

GTR: And there he was?

VJ: Yeah, there he was. So, there was no hoopla, was there?

RMJ: No.

GTR: And what I’ve heard from others, because there were so few people were sent at that time, it was just the reservists, that other people didn’t know what was going on…

VJ: It blindsided me, when he joined the reserve. That blindsided me. We were both… I was working and he was going to DBU.

RMJ: That isn’t when I joined. I joined in the eleventh grade.

VJ: He joined in the eleventh grade, so he was going. But I didn’t think much of it. He was going, what was it, once a month?

RMJ: Yeah, once a week. Yeah, I think it was, maybe it was once a month.

VJ: I thought it was once a month.

RMJ: Maybe it was.

VJ: And yeah, and then all of a sudden, we graduated in 1949 and he left in August of ’50. And so you were kind of in a state of shock all that time because of what was happening.

GTR: It hadn’t been in the news very much before that? Where’s Korea, even?

VJ: No! I don’t think so. I don’t think so.

RMJ: There wasn’t much going on there. The Russians were the ones that went down and kept North Korea so we only were occupying half the peninsula, or whatever it was.

VJ: My head wasn’t in the news at that time. He’s always been the historian and loved all that stuff and I didn’t. So, I was really in a state of shock. I suppose you told her how you left Duluth?

GTR: You were there.

VJ: Oh, yes, I was there in a yellow suit and hat. Matching gloves. That’s what we did.

RMJ: How about shoes?

VJ: Oh, I had matching, I had three inch heels that matched, yeah.

GTR: And what was the mood like?

VJ: The mood was strange. It was… we just gathered, it was just all of a sudden, we had to go down Superior Street and I was with Bob’s mother and dad. We stood just along the… His dad took a picture of them marching. And they marched and all they did was call cadence. There was no music, there was no band, there was nothing. And they just marched, where, from the Armory? Where’d you march from?

RMJ: From the training center on Park Point.

VJ: Park Point, yeah. And marched down to the Depot and left on the train from the Depot. And his dad took, what were they, home movies. Thirty-five millimeter, is that what they were?

RMJ: Eight millimeter.

VJ: Eight millimeter, yeah. And there’s this picture of this fellow waving off the end of the train. And he died the first, he was the first one to die over there, the first one to be killed.

RMJ: Earl Hill.

VJ: Earl Hill. Bob knew him.

RMJ: He was from my neighborhood.

GTR: So, that was in the movie?

VJ: It was in that movie. Somewhere, that movie is.

GTR: That would be interesting.

RMJ: Well, my brother is gone now.


VJ: Yeah, we’ve told the guys, you know, that’s the only movie of it and those pictures. We all have the pictures. It was a grey day. It was August, but it didn’t rain, but it was grey and threatening rain. But then they were off on the train and that was it and it was just like, what was that? And I was living with my… I was still living at home. So, yeah, long, long time ago.

GTR: And a long time before you got mail?

VJ: Oh yeah. A few letters came, but time was kinda short for the overseas thing. I heard from him that he had Thanksgiving when he landed there. A typical meal with…. You always say what it was, it was, the menu.

RMJ: Roast turkey and baked Virginia ham.

VJ: It was a menu actually.

GTR: Overseas?

VJ: Overseas, yes.

RMJ: I had to walk two miles from the outpost into it and get back to the other half could get in there. And on the way back my stomach attacked me; I wasn’t used to food like that. {laughs}

GTR: Oh, no. That’s hard. When you left you thought it might just be that you’d go train and stay in the US to support the operations over here? You didn’t necessarily think that you’d be sent overseas? When you all marched down to the Depot?

RMJ: I figured. I was aware of the way the war was going. At that time I think we were all wound up in the Pusan perimeter. Most amount of marines they could get there at that time was the 5th marines at least that strength, which was called the 1st provisional brigade. And they had peacetime strength…two companies to the Battalion.

GTR: And you had no idea (to Virginia)?

VJ: No. And the guys he had went with, a lot of them I had gone to kindergarten with. I was from Central Hillside and a lot of them, they were from there and then Bob was from way out in West Duluth. That was a trip for me on the bus out there, so…

GTR: You went to Cathedral (High School)?

VJ: Yes. We would not have met if his mother had not thought he needed a Catholic education. But yeah. But so, a lot of those guys I went to school with so I know them all.

GTR: Do you go to the dinners, the luncheons (for Company B?)

VJ: The meetings? Yes, I go to the luncheons. Yeah, every other month, ladies were invited, but now it’s every time, you can go, but you can’t sit in with them, you have to sit out in the, they have “secret meetings” (whispers).

GTR: Mrs. Duane Booker, she was already married and had kids by the time he went to Korea. I wonder if there were any other wives that are still coming to the meetings that were maybe married already at that time or have memories, or some of them younger.

RMJ: Laveryn.

VJ: He and Laveryn were married, yes, they married. They were a little older than us.

RMJ: Oh, only about a year.

VJ: Just a year? Laveryn and Ed McKeever.

RMJ: Ed died a few years ago and his son was killed in Vietnam.

GTR: Is Laverne still alive?

VJ: Yes, Laverne still comes to the meetings. She was very involved in the meetings for a long, long time, with her daughter. Then she dropped out for a while, I don’t know why, then she came back.

GTR: I’m thinking of my questions for the wives. I don’t know if they’ve been researched as much for the homefront Korea because people, of course, know about World War II, but not Korea as much and what was happening here. Did people know, like people you worked with, that he was overseas?

VJ: Oh, yes, my boss really liked him. Because his son graduated high school with us and he would come by my desk and he’d go like that (tapping) on his picture under the, you know, on my desk.

GTR: You worked at…?

VJ: Providence Loan Company. Ed Gleeson. I was what they call the stenographer, I took shorthand and typed.

RMJ: Ed’s son, Eddie, owns Carmody’s.

VJ: Eddy. Carmody’s. Carmody’s Pub. So, we’re always welcome at Carmody’s.

GTR: That’s great. Thanks. (end of interview, paperwork, thanks)


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