Private First Class Oscar G. Johnson, Jr., USA (September 16-18, 1944)

Oscar Godfrey Johnson, Jr. was born in Foster City, Michigan on March 25, 1921. He was a high school graduate and working as a farm hand when he was drafted into the United States Army for service in World War II.

91st Infantry Division patch (Wikimedia Commons)

Johnson was trained as a mortarman and was a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 363rd Infantry Regiment. The regiment, as part of the 91st Infantry Division, entered combat in Italy during July of 1944. In August 1944, the Allied armies in Italy began assaulting the Nazi defensive positions collectively known as the “Gothic Line”. This was Germany’s last strongpoint in Italy, and the would defend it tenaciously.

During September 16-18, 1944 as the 91st division’s area was under heavy counterattack, Oscar Johnson (as just a Private First Class) assumed a rifleman’s role after his mortar ammunition was expended, took command of men around him, and when all of his comrades had been killed or wounded, carried on the fight and single-handedly held the left flank of his company.

He was promoted to Sergeant before receiving the Medal of Honor in July 1945.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (G-L):

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Photo: Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center

JOHNSON, OSCAR G.

Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 363d Infantry, 91st Infantry Division. Place and date: Near Scarperia, Italy, 16-18 September 1944. Entered service at: Foster City, Mich. G.O. No.: 58, 19 July 1945

Citation: (then Pfc.) 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, a mortar gunner, having expended his ammunition, assumed the duties of a rifleman. As leader of a squad of 7 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 machinegun 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 German 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.

Johnson left the Army in 1945 and later served with the Michigan National Guard from 1959-1964, leaving its service holding the rank of Chief Warrant Officer Four. He passed away at age 77 on May 13, 1998 and was laid to rest in the DeWitt City Cemetery, DeWitt, Michigan.

The Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Iron Mountain, Michigan is named in his honor.

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