Robert Johnson, along with his friend Bobby Boon, joined the Arkansas National Guard unit in Marianna Arkansas and became part of the 206th Coast Artillery Band. At the time the possibility of a war seemed remote and aside from basic training the Guard seemed to offer an opportunity to improve his play on their instruments. Much to their surprise both Johnson and Boon were activated in January 1941, the Guard federalized and sent to Alaska where they would remain for the duration of the war. At Dutch Harbor, and later on Amchitka, Johnson and Boon would be part of the 206th Medical Detachment and band. Learn more about the bombing of Dutch Harbor, what it was like to live and work in the Aleutians and more by reading Robert Johnson’s diary and Stephanie Johnson Dixon’s story entitled “What Daddy (And Mother) Did in the War” to learn more about the people and places in the photographs.
Shirley Allen (later Shirley Johnson) wanted to contribute to the war effort and put off going to college to do so. She made her way to Memphis and found work at the Army Depot, a 642 acre complex handling food and supplies for the troops and even served as a prisoner of war camp at one point. Shirley worked as an office clerk. After working long enough to put together a small nest egg Shirley set off for college at the University of Oklahoma. Her story accompanies that of her husband Robert Johnson in “What Daddy (And Mother) Did in the War.”
NAME: Robert T. Johnson
HOME ADDRESS: Marianna, Arkansas
MY SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER:
MY ARMY SERIAL NUMBER: 20756603
DATE OF INDUCTION TO SERVICE: January 6, 1940
BRANCH OF SERVICE: C.A. (Coast Artillery)
RATINGS CHANGES AND TRANSFERS: From Cpl. To Sgt.
CAMP NAME AND LOCATION (Ft. Bliss, Texas, Camp Murray, Washington, and Fort Mears, Alaska)
SERIAL NUMBER OF RIFLE: 1497305
MAKERS NUMER OF WATCH:
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY NOTIFY: F.L. Johnson
MY CLOHTING SIZES
It will be found helpful to record these for reference when you go to the Supply Department for clothing, etc., also, when you write home for articles of wear.
The following pages contain general information, including the Oath of Enlistment; General Orders for Sentinels; Insignia of United States Army; a description of Service Stripes, Cords, and the Insignia of the United States Army Subdivisions; drawings of the Insignia of the Arms and Services (the Coast Artillery Corps insignia consisted of two crossed cannon with a projectile superimposed on the center); a description of a proper Hand Salute, and the International Morse Code.
[Before he began writing anything else in his Army Diary Bob Johnson listed all of the men in the 206th Coast Artillery Band. This entry is listed in September 1942 under the heading "Members of Band." He lists the last names first, no comma between first and last names.]
22, Thursday: I received my certificate as a Non-Commissioned Officer on this date. The test was pretty hard for me.
30, Friday: Dear Diary, We have been in Dutch Harbor one year today. We have had two air attacks. June 3 and 4.
8, Tuesday: I received this diary from Willia. We had a band practice this morning with snow neck deep. We worked on the C.P. hole this afternoon.
9, Wednesday: We had band rehearsal this morning. I dug at the C.P. this afternoon. We had a swell bull session in that hut until about 10 p.m.
10, Thursday: Dear Diary, Today has been pleasant. We went on the firing range for practice fire. I did O.K. but will try to do better for my record try. I am pretty tired.
11, Friday: Today we fired for record. I made expert (182) the only one in the band. Fibber McGee made next firing (187) with a general rifle.
12, Saturday: Today we had rifle inspection at 9 a.m. I passed it O.K. I went to Ft. Mears to get a hair-cut and to visit John Hughes who is in the hospital. He is getting along fine. He will be up in about 14 days.
13, Sunday: Dear Diary, This has been a day of rest. And I have surely rested. I played pitch this afternoon and I played with Mac, Cliff, and Rogers.
14, Monday: Today we had band rehearsal and [?] in the hole at the C.P. We had visitors from the Medic for the News Report.
15, Tuesday: This morning we held band rehearsal in the rec hall. I spent this afternoon in my bunk. Tonight we held a class in the Mens. [?]
16, Wednesday: We held rehearsal this morning and group [?] Mac and I went to the movie this afternoon. Tonight Lt. Johnson gave us a lecture on Military Discipline.
17, Thursday: We had rehearsal this morning. I had a detail in the C.P. this afternoon. We made good progress, should finish soon.
18, Friday: We had rehearsal this morning and Newt Williams and I went to the movies this afternoon. I saw Men of Texas.
19, Saturday: I had my first wisdom tooth cut out today. It sure hurts now. I had one filled too. We had band rehearsal this morning, had lots of fun.
Notes: I had a swell fruit-cake from Mother and Dad. We sure enjoyed it.
20, Sunday: Dear Diary, This day has been appreciated by all. We had a fine meal and got some of that much needed rest.
21, Monday: This has been a beautiful day. I had my eyes dialated this afternoon. I need glasses in my left eye.
22, Tuesday: We had band rehearsal and worked on the P. hole this evening. Saw “Holiday Inn” a good show for here.
23, Wednesday: We oversleep [sic] but the boss didn’t miss us for work call. We are being entertained by some dancers.
24, Thursday: Tis the day before Xmas and boy was the beer enjoyed by all. After all, you don’t think so much about home.
25, Friday: Today has been a gloomy Xmas. It is the second I have missed both times I was here. We had a fine dinner.
26, Saturday: I have had an awful sore throat all day. We had band rehearsal all morning and it stunk. We were off this afternoon due to bad weather. The snow is waist deep. It has truly been a white Xmas for Band [illegible].
27, Sunday: We slept till noon, had a good dinner, but I have doctored a sore throat all afternoon. It seems to be getting better.
28, Monday: We didn’t have much to do today, our water system was out, so we had to tote water and dig slit-trenches.
29, Tuesday: Today I had to recheck for and ordered glasses. I intend to do more reading now. We had school to-night.
30, Wednesday: We had school this morning and worked again in the C.P. hall. It has been a very pretty day for Dutch Harbor which is so good.
31, Thursday: Dear Diary, Today we had rehearsal and tried to throw out the [?] this evening. Ralph, Virgil, Harold, and myself. We didn’t accomplish much.
1, Friday: Well I hope this year will see the end of the war. But if it doesn’t we will only fight harder next year.
2, Saturday: Dear Diary, This has been an enj. day for me. We had a fine rehearsal this A.M. and I was off this evening.
Notes: I received some more from home. Sure makes me feel better.
3, Sunday: This has been our day off, but I have had to be in charge of the general orders. I am not sure of them yet.
4, Monday: We had rehearsal this morning. I said my general orders to Mr. Plunkett and worked in the P. hole this afternoon.
5, Tuesday: Rehearsal this morning and worked this afternoon in the C./P. hole. It surely was bad to be out.
6, Wednesday: Band rehearsal this morning and the evening off. We held our first beer bust in the rec hall.
7, Thursday: We had rehearsal. It was rather good. We have been off this afternoon due to bad weather. Thanks Lt. Johnson.
8, Friday: Today we had band rehearsal and I enjoyed it very much. I saw “Between Us Girls” and it was a good show. Diana Barrymore was fine.
9, Saturday: Band rehearsal again, not so good. Maxey and Chunn had a big argument. Mac wanted me to move down so that Chunn could move out of Maxey’s way, but I got to stay put. Thanks to the good top kick. Being a fine soldier and a good friend.
10, Sunday: We slept this morning and had a fine chicken dinner. I wrote some letters this evening and went to bed early.
11, Monday: I had to have water this morning but it was cold. I hope the pipes are repaired in the next few days.
12, Tuesday: Today has been another cold day. We haven’t done much except try to keep warm.
13, Wednesday: Charlie Myers and I went to Ft. Mears for a hair cut. The shop was filled up and we got no hair cut.
14, Thursday: Worked in the C.P. hole this afternoon, had a good band rehearsal this morning. Saw a show tonight.
15, Friday: I didn’t work today. I had a very nasty cold and the weather is pretty bad.
16, Saturday: Well, diary old boy, your boss is terrific today. Mac, Cliff, and I had a fine time. Took in “Flying Tigers.” More fun than I’ve had in some time. Got to bed at 2 a.m. this day.
17, Sunday: We slept late this morning, had a chicken dinner. Spent the afternoon in bed. The water supply is very low.
[No entries for the next 10 days.]
27, Wednesday: Band rehearsal this morning and dug this afternoon. It was cold and rainy.
28, Thursday: We worked in the personnel hole and had band rehearsal. We discussed the new training program.
29, Friday: We finished digging the Personnel hole after about three months. It’s sure been a hard grind.
30, Saturday: we worked in the Quonset hut today. Had to move it from our hill four hundred to put it up for Major [Word? Ward?] in the C.P.
31, Sunday: We had the day off. A fairly good dinner and saw a good show this afternoon. Wrote some letters tonight.
1, Monday: We had pay day yesterday and started a new frog [ram? Run?]. Played a concert for D Battalion last night.
2, Tuesday: Had band rehearsal this morning. Played for K today and had school tonight. It’s rained nearly all day.
[There are no more entries until May 9, 1943]
9, Sunday: We were off all day, so [longed? Lounged?] on our ---- nearly all day. We had some Arkansas weather for a change.
10, Monday: Today we had a brass rehearsal and played a concert at the 151st Engineers. Pretty good time.
[No more entries until May 27, 1943]
27, Thursday: We started on a fast PCX problem. First air riad at 605, suffered to sleep out tonight, raining hard now!
28, Friday: Had field man. Today. We captured the enemy at NO5 (some fight).
29, Saturday: Dear Diary, I have had a busy day. We played a parade this morning, had a lay-out inspection by Capt. Miller. Slept all afternoon. Have been getting up at 4 a.m. each morning. Something must be brewing.
[No entries until July 9, 1943)
9, Friday: We played our first game of softball. Beat Headquarters Battery 18-2. Play them again tomorrow.
10, Saturday: We beat them 14-5 today. Sure made them unhappy. We play the 165 Field Artillery tomorrow. They have a fine team.
11, Sunday: we lost this game but had a good time. We played volley ball all afternoon. Plenty of exercise.
[No more entries until August 15, 1943]
15, Sunday: Land on Kiska without a fight. The famous old chain is now ours. Came on furloughs.
17, Tuesday: Col Robertson gave us good news at K. Battery celebration. Says we will sent back to States in three or four months. Best news since I have reached this place.
21, Saturday: The orchestra played for a dance at the Officer’s Club tonight. Music was pretty good. Capt. Stottlemeyer of F. Battery sat in on a few numbers.
[No entries until September 15, 1943]
15, Wednesday: F.L. Johnson & Son--- Dad and I are going in to business today. Here’s hoping we don’t go down.
16, Thursday: We had eight new men transferred to the band today. All are pretty good musicians and should improve the band if Plunkett will get off his but [sic] and work for a few months.
[No entries until October 6, 1943.]
[The next entry, Wed., October 26, 1943 is practically indecipherable. The first few words are in Dad’s small, but hardy handwriting. From there on, it grows weak and slides a bit off the lines, making it very hard to read. The next few entries after explain why, with very little detail.
This was the incident in which a 90-Day Wonder ordered the men on a hike into the mountains. He ordered them to carry only light packs and light uniforms. This was winter and the troops protested, since they had been in the Aleutians for a couple of years and knew what kind of weather could blow up unexpectedly.
A squall did come in and left them all stranded on the mountain with insufficient protection and clothing. According to Bob, many of the men, including him and the officer who ordered this disaster, had to be carried off the mountain in stretchers the next day. He and others suffered various sorts of frostbite and other ailments. This, he said, was how he got his Purple Heart.]
6, Wednesday: We went on a problem, its running looks nightly for men to be sleeping out.
7, Thursday: How right I was. I passed out this morning from exposure. We had about forty cases in this regiment. It was the most miserable night I ever had.
9, Saturday: Came back from the hospital today. Feel much better but still have a bad cough and a sore throat.
Notes: Had a letter from home. Surely did help my morale.
[No entries until October 20, 1943]
20, Wednesday: We ended our second year in Old Dutch today. Boy have they been a long sentence.
21, Thursday and 22 Friday: Some of the boys are beginning to get mighty nervous. It could be what they are thinking of home more since these rumors came out. Still it could be we been here a little too long, What say you old Diary?
23, Saturday: We went through an infiltration course today, but was it rough, real bullets, grenades, mines, gas and etc. The first real training we have had since mobilization day.
[No entries until November 14, 1943]
14, Sunday: Bad day, snowed all day. Little mail call. Got one letter from Mother, no news of going home yet?
18, Thursday: Ye Gads what a day. We were on a problem again today. It snowed, rained, sleeted, and we were in water up to our but [sic]. Cold as all get-out. Good training (I guess).
[No entries until December 23, 1943]
23, December and 24, December 1943: Sure had some bad news today. Received some news that we would be transferred to the Post Band. By the way, the 206th is being sent back to the States, just our luck. Oh well, maybe this isn’t such a bad place after all.
25, December: We surely did have a busy week. Played several beer parties and etc.
More 25, December 1943: Had a good dinner and heard several good radio programs. Hope this is our last Xmas up here.
[No entries until January 3, 1944]
3, Monday: First furlough was approved should get out soon (I hope).
4, Tuesday: Started sweating now.
[No entries until February 20, 1944]
20, Tuesday: Still sweating for that transfer. Wonder what I did to deserve this.
[This is the last of the regular daily diary entries. He ran out of dated pages. The rest of the entries are listed under “Memoranda” and “Addresses.”]
[A list for hair oil, soap, coffee pot, and frying pan.]
Transfer to Amchitka August 1. Seems to be quite a place.
Last updated: August 5, 2019