Defenders of the Philippines

picture of captivity and picture of release from captivity

General Harold Keith Johnson

Picture of General Harold K. Johnson on September 30, 1965Photo of General Harold Johnson on September 30, 1965

Harold Keith Johnson was born on February 22, 1912 in Bowesmont, North Dakota. Graduating from Grafton High School in 1929, he went to the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the infantry on June 13, 1933. He was then assigned to the 3rd Infantry at Fort Snelling, Minnesota.

Two years later, in 1936, Johnson became a First Lieutenant and went to the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Alabama, from which he graduated in 1938. His next assignment was with the 28th Infantry stationed at Fort Niagara, New York, although in 1940 Johnson joined the 57th Infantry Philippine Scouts at Fort McKinley, south of Manila, Luzon, in the Philippine Islands. Johnson was a battalion commander, and when Bataan surrendered on April 9, 1942, Johnson became a Japanese prisoner of war.

Johnson was on the Bataan Death March and was imprisoned in Camp O'Donnell, Cabanatuan, and Bilibid. On December 13, 1944, Johnson was among the men put on board the Oryoku Maru in Manila for transport to Japan. On the 15th, an American bomb struck the aft hold, forcing the men and the Japanese to abandon the ship. Johnson survived and eventually made it to Japan, although he was later transferred to Korea, from which he was liberated on September 7, 1945 by the 7th Infantry Division.

After the war, Johnson attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, graduating in 1947 and remaining there as an instructor until 1949. He graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in 1950 and received an assignment as Commanding Officer of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry, at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Johnson served as Battalion Commander of the 5th and 8th Infantry Division and as the plans and operations officer of the I Corps, Far East Command, during the Korean War. When he returned to the United States, he was assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe, Virginia, and he graduated from the National War College in 1953. He was thereafter the head of the Joint War Plans Branch in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G3, from 1954 to 1955, and in 1956 he became a permanent Colonel.

Johnson subsequently served as the Assistant Division Commander of the 8th Infantry Division and as Chief of Staff of both the Seventh Army in Europe and of the Central Army Group of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1959 Johnson received a promotion to permanent Brigadier General and served as the Commandant of the Command and General Staff College until 1963, at which time he became a permanent Major General. Johnson was the 24th Army Chief of Staff from July 3, 1964 to July 2, 1968, during which time he led the Army throughout the expansion of the Vietnam War. He is credited with the creation of the office of Sergeant Major.

Johnson retired from active duty in 1968, and he died of cancer at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on September 24, 1983. He was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, and he is the subject of Lewis Sorley's book Honorable Warrior: General Harold K. Johnson and the Ethics of Command.