Private Joseph D. Johnson (1924–1944)

Private Joseph D. Johnson (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
Home StateCivilian Occupation
DelawareStore clerk
BranchService Number
U.S. Army32754908
EuropeanCompany “B,” 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division
Military Occupational SpecialtyCampaigns/Battles
745 (rifleman)Rhineland campaign

Early Life & Family

Joseph David Johnson was born in Harrington, Kent County, Delaware, on the morning of October 1, 1924. He was the first—and apparently only—child of Frank W. Johnson (at the time, an express messenger, 1889–1972) and Mary Helen Johnson (née Moore, 1903–2001). His mother had emigrated from England to the United States as a young child.

By 1930, the Johnson family had moved south to Sussex County, Delaware. They were recorded on the census on April 12, 1930, living at the Delaware Colony for the Feeble Minded, located near the Sussex County seat of Georgetown. Inmates, all with mental handicaps, lived in dormitories referred to as cottages and performed labor such as laundry or field work. Influenced by the eugenics movement, the colony also subjected inmates to involuntary sterilization.

Johnson’s parents were not inmates, but they lived and worked at the Delaware Colony. As of 1930, Johnson’s father was working as a laborer on a farm there and his mother as a caretaker. The next census, taken May 9, 1940, recorded them still living at the Delaware Colony. Johnson’s father was still working as a on the farm, while his mother was working as a cook at one of the cottages.

Johnson graduated from Georgetown High School in 1942. Later that year, when he registered for the draft on December 22, 1942, Johnson was living on Rural Delivery Route No. 1 in Georgetown. The registrar described him as standing about five feet, five inches tall and weighing 138 lbs., with brown hair and eyes.

Johnson’s father’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission recorded his son’s occupation as store clerk. Similarly, Journal-Every Evening reported that Johnson “was employed at the American Store in Georgetown before his induction in March, 1943.”

Military Training

According his father’s statement, after Johnson was drafted, he joined the U.S. Army at Fort Dix, New Jersey, on March 27, 1943. Private Johnson attended basic training at the Coast Artillery Replacement Training Center at Fort Eustis, Virginia.  

At some point in 1943, Johnson entered the Army Specialized Training Program (A.S.T.P.), which gave him the opportunity to obtain technical or language training and to potentially attend officer training after graduation. His father stated that Johnson spent five weeks at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, followed by three months at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  

In early 1944, Army planners decided that anticipated manpower shortages with the upcoming invasion of Normandy outweighed the long-term benefits of A.S.T.P. Johnson’s father’s statement indicated that after the program was terminated in March 1944, Johnson transferred to Battery “C,” 145th Antiaircraft Gun Battalion at Camp Stewart, Georgia. According to Shelby Stanton’s summary of the unit in his book, World War II Order of Battle, the 145th moved to Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi, on May 9, 1944. Within a few months, Private Johnson transferred to Company “E,” 144th Infantry Regiment, also stationed at Camp Van Dorn. At that time, the regiment was essentially a training unit that prepared soldiers from other branches to serve as infantrymen. After six weeks of infantry training, Private Johnson moved to the Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland, before going overseas as a replacement. 

Combat in the European Theater

Private Johnson’s Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) was 745, rifleman. In combat, rifle companies’ casualties were very high. As a result, so was the demand for replacement riflemen to keep those companies combat effective. In his book, Beyond the Beachhead, Joseph Balkoski wrote:

Replacements were the army’s homeless. After a hasty separation from the units with which they had trained or fought, the lonely replacements found themselves in an unfamiliar repple depple [replacement depot], where they lost all sense of belonging to a cohesive military unit. Even new friendships made within the replacement depots were generally fleeting since it was unlikely that two buddies would be assigned to the same squad, or even the same platoon. Many replacements thought of themselves as nameless pieces of army equipment, like crates of ammunition, sent to the front and promptly consumed. […] “Being a replacement is just like being an orphan,” a rifleman recalled.

Replacements often had little time to acclimate to their new units before going into combat, and they frequently became casualties themselves very quickly. On September 29, 1944, Private Johnson was transferred from the 38th Replacement Battalion to Company “B,” 317th Infantry Regiment, 80th Infantry Division.

Weary infantrymen from Johnson’s unit, the 317th Infantry Regiment, marching near Junglinster, Luxembourg, on December 21, 1944 (Official U.S. Army Signal Corps photo 111-SC-272425, National Archives)

When Private Johnson joined his unit, the front line was in northeast France, with the 317th Infantry positions located north of the city of Nancy. The division operational history for October 1944 explained:

          On 1 October 1944, the 80th Infantry Division had a firmly established bridgehead east of the MOSELLE RIVER.  The enemy still held MT TOULON and MT ST JEAN, the most commanding ground to the Division front between the MOSELLE AND SEILLE RIVERS.  These vantage points afforded the enemy excellent observation of the Division’s activities in the MT TOULON-MT ST JEAN sector.

Johnson arrived during relatively quiet period. His company was in defensive positions near Morey on what the Americans referred to as Hill 340. On October 1, 1944, Johnson’s 1st Battalion was pulled out of the line, with Company “B” moving to the area north of Faulx. On that day, which happened to be Private Johnson’s 22nd birthday, he was able to indulge in a rare treat (at least for frontline infantrymen). Journal-Every Evening reported that Johnson “wrote a letter dated Oct. 1 in which he said his birthday present was a ‘nice hot shower.’ He had received no mail from home when he wrote this last letter.” The rest of the week was quiet for his battalion.

Private Johnson most likely experienced combat for the first time on the morning of October 8, 1944, when the 317th Infantry advanced on Mont Saint-Jean as part of a coordinated attack by the entire division. 1st Battalion attacked the north end (referred to as Hill 400), while 3rd Battalion assaulted the slightly more prominent southern end (Hill 407). 1st Battalion launched its attack at 0600, followed 15 minutes later by 3rd Battalion. The 80th Infantry Division’s operational history stated:

1st Bn 317th Infantry, from its position south of BELLEAU in the BOIS DE LA RUMONT, attacked to the northeast […] At 0630, the Bn was crossing the SIVRY-MOIVRON road.  By 0710, “A” and “B” Companies had moved over HILL 400 to defilade positions and immediately began to organize for defense.

1st Battalion continued their advance that afternoon. The operational history stated:

“B” Company 317th Infantry was on its way to JEANDELINCOURT, moving at 1310 [hours] from HILL 400 (MT ST JEAN).  Elements of “B” Company entered JEANDELINCOURT at 1600, and the remainder of the company closed in shortly thereafter, thus completing the relief of elements of CCB [Combat Command B] 6th Armored Division.

According to the division history, the attack smashed the German 553rd Division, with the Americans taking more than 1,200 prisoners. Pleased with the division’s progress, 80th Infantry Division commander Major General Horace L. McBride (1894–1962) advanced the timetable by 24 hours, hoping to exploit the breakthrough before the Germans could move reinforcements in. The division history added:

          At 0600, 9 October 1944, the 1st Bn 317th Infantry advanced northeast from MT ST JEAN behind CCB 6th Armored Division with the vicinity of LETRICOURT as its objective.  Leading elements of the Bn were heading northeast out of JEANDELINCOURT at 0715 with CCB preceding.  The advance was unopposed and the Battalion passed the road and rail junction east of JEANDELINCOURT at 0745.

          Slight enemy resistance was encountered near the BOIS DE BRASQUIN by CCB at 0855 but the advance continued to the northeast, the enemy troops having been destroyed.

          The 1st Bn continued to follow CCB and occupied the western part of the BOIS DE BRASQUIN at 0920.

Next, the 6th Armored Division’s Combat Command A leapfrogged ahead of 1st Battalion and Combat Command B. The division history continued:

          CCA cleared the enemy from BOIS D’ AULNOIS, southwest of LETRICOURT, by 1450 at which time the 1st Bn began moving from BOIS DE BRASQUIN to consolidate the ground gained by the armor. […] By 1510 CCA held a line from the southwestern edge of BOIS DU H[AU]TE DES TRAPPES, thence along the northern edge of the woods to the western outskirts of LETRICOURT, thence south to the edge of CHENICOURT.  This line was held until elements of the 1st Bn 317th Infantry relieved CCA from their positions.  By 2345, the 1st Bn 317th Infantry had completed relief of CCA and occupied the BOIS D’ AULNOIS.

The exact circumstances leading to Private Johnson’s death are unclear, and it appears that the company clerk had incomplete information for a week. A Company “B” morning report dated October 11, 1944, stated that Johnson and 11 other men went missing in action on October 8, 1944. However, a subsequent morning report dated October 16, 1944, stated that Johnson and two of the other missing men were in fact killed in action one day after they were originally listed as missing: October 9, 1944.

A hospital admission card under his service number stated that Johnson was struck in the side by a bullet or other projectile and killed. (These cards will filled out even when a soldier died before reaching medical care, and indeed it appears that he died immediately.)

Johnson was initially buried overseas. After the war, Private Johnson’s parents requested that his body be repatriated to the United States. Following services at the Carey Funeral Home in Georgetown on January 2, 1949, Johnson was buried in Union Cemetery. His parents were also buried there after their deaths.


Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Private Johnson. Andy Adkins, historian and webmaster of the 80th Division Veterans Association website, who digitized records that were invaluable in telling this story.


Applications for Headstones, compiled 1/1/1925–6/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776–1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774–1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

“After Action Report (S-3)/October.” Headquarters 317th Infantry, November 3, 1944. National Archives via the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website.

Fleetwood, Linda. “Claws and Wings: An Oral History Exploration of Disability in Delaware 1917–2017.” Oral history interview conducted by Kim Burdick, July 18, 2017. Transcript on Delaware Developmental Disabilities Council website.

“Funeral Rites Sunday For Georgetown Soldier.” Journal-Every Evening, December 29, 1948. Pg. 18.

“History 80th Infantry Division October 1944.” National Archives. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website.

Johnson, Frank W. Joseph David Johnson Individual Military Service Record, c. 1946. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Joseph David Johnson birth certificate. Record Group 1500-008-094, Birth Certificates. Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware.

Morning reports for Company “B,” 317th Infantry Regiment, September 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website.

Morning reports for Company “B,” 317th Infantry Regiment, October 1944. National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of the 80th Division Digital Archives Project website.

“Navy Man Is Missing Off Luzon.” Journal-Every Evening, February 9, 1945. Pg. 1 and 4.

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle: An Encyclopedic Reference to U.S. Army Ground Forces from Battalion through Division 1939–1946. Revised ed. Stackpole Books, 2006.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C.

U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942–1954. Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775–1994. National Archives at College Park, Maryland.  

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940–3/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.

Last updated on July 4, 2022

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