Howard R. Johnson

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Howard Ravenscroft Johnson
Colonel Howard Johnson
Nickname(s) Jumpy Johnson
Born (1903-06-18)June 18, 1903
Maryland, United States
Died October 8, 1944(1944-10-08) (aged 41)
Heteren, the Netherlands
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch  United States Army
Years of service 1923–1944
Rank Colonel
Commands held 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment
Battles/wars World War II

Howard Ravenscroft Johnson (June 18, 1903 – October 8, 1944) was an officer of the United States Army. He was the commander of the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment during World War II.

Early career[edit]

Howard Ravenscroft Johnson was born on June 18, 1903, in Maryland. His father was a shipbuilder in that state. Graduating from Central High School in Washington, D.C., Johnson attended the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Before he was scheduled to graduate, Johnson went to Texas, where he tried to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps. The instructors sent him away because of poor "side vision." Johnson stayed in the Army, however, and was stationed in the Panama Canal Zone, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and in China, before returning to his home state of Maryland, where he would be posted at Fort Meade. Before World War II broke out, Johnson, by then advancing in rank, was driving a jeep when it flipped over, severely injuring him. After he eventually recovered, his commanders offered him the chance to command the First Special Service Force, known as the "Black Devils." Colonel Johnson didn't think that it would ever be an effective fighting force. The Black Devils went on to fight in World War II, earning recognition for its nighttime raids behind the German lines at Anzio Beach. Soon, his superiors gave him the opportunity to command another combat unit. It was called the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment. The colonel accepted.

Commanding the 501st and Fighting in Normandy[edit]

After the regiment endured rigorous training at Camp Toccoa and Fort Benning, Georgia, it was sent to North Carolina for military maneuvers. In January 1944, Colonel Johnson and the 501st Parachute Infantry sailed to England. By now, "Jumpy" Johnson had installed a positive attitude in them which led to a fighting spirit. The morale of the 501st stayed rather high the entire time Colonel Howard Johnson was with them and after he was gone. On D-Day, the 501st, now permanently attached to the 101st Airborne Division was assigned to seize some canal locks and demolish the bridges over the Douve River. One battalion would be in the 101st Division reserve. When the men of the 'Geronimo Regiment' parachuted into Normandy, they were widely scattered. Johnson gathered a group of his men and as platoons and companies in the regiment got back together, they annihilated a battalion of German paratroopers guarding the canal locks.[1] The 501st Regiment, led by Colonel Johnson, had a successful mission, even though in a way that General Dwight Eisenhower's planners never imagined. The 101st Division became the First Army reserve in July 1944, so after a month of fighting, the 501st Regiment was able to rest.

Battling in the Netherlands[edit]

The 101st Airborne, including Colonel Johnson and his men, was ordered to seize 15 miles of highway, including several bridges, in the Netherlands as part of the combined airborne/armored Operation Market Garden. The 501st PIR landed and organized itself. Always among his men, Johnson provided an example of leadership in the battlefield as he led his men to seize their objectives and get into good positions once a British armored corps linked up with them. Although part of Operation Market Garden failed, the 501st, led by "Jumpy" Johnson, had seized its objectives.

When the 101st Airborne Division dug in on the "Island" (a small strip of land between the Waal and Rhine Rivers), the 501st was subjected to mortar and artillery fire that killed and maimed many men. Colonel Johnson was able to keep the morale up and the regiment executed several successful patrols. On October 8, 1944, Johnson and his young executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Julian Ewell, a West Point graduate, were visiting the front lines. Suddenly, some mortar shells hit the area. Men raced for cover and got down. Some of them were killed by the barrage. A large fragment hit the Colonel in the stomach.[2] He fell to the ground. The medics knew that the wound was very serious, if not fatal. Two hours later, Johnson groaned, "Take care of my boys" to Colonel Ewell. Seconds later, he was dead.

Howard Ravenscroft Johnson is survived by his wife, two children, and has lived on in the history of the 101st Airborne Division.

Howard R. Johnson Date of death: Killed in Action Home of record: Washington D.C. Status: KIA

AWARDS AND CITATIONS Distinguished Service Cross See more recipients of this award

Awarded for actions during the World War II

(Citation Needed) - SYNOPSIS: Colonel (Infantry) Howard R. Johnson (ASN: 0-16647), United States Army, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Commanding Officer, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, in action against enemy forces from 6 to 8 June 1944, in France. Colonel Johnson's outstanding leadership, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty at the cost of his life, exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 101st Airborne Division, and the United States Army. General Orders: Headquarters, First U.S. Army, General Orders No. 87 (1944)

Action Date: June 6–8, 1944 Service: Army Rank: Colonel Company: Commanding Officer Regiment: 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment Division: 101st Airborne Division