Obituary Record

Aaron (S. Sgt. U. S. Army) Johnson
Died on 7/25/1987

The date and place of publication of this article was not recorded.


A military graveside service was held July 29, 1987, for Aaron Johnson, 66, who survived the infamous “Bataan Death March” in the Philippines during World War II and spent the next two and a half years as a prisoner of the Japanese in Manchuria.

The retired US Army officer died July 25, 1987, at Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California, after surgery for a gallbladder infection.

Johnson, a staff sergeant when US forces on Luzon surrendered to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, joined Lt. Gen. Jonathan Wainwright and 75,000 other prisoners on the march to San Fernando, 100 miles away, with many thousands dying because of ill-treatment along the way.

Wainwright and 15,000 troops had been left behind by Gen. Douglas McArthur, who had been ordered to leave the Philippine Islands.

Johnson later recalled in a December, 1981, interview published in the San Jose Mercury that only the fittest survived.

He said that many of the ailing Americans snapped under the strain of not knowing what might happen.

He was bounced from POW camp to POW camp, ending up eventually with Wainwright at the camp near Mukden, Manchuria.

He developed appendicitis while in the Mukden camp and rather than risk a 300-mile journey by ox cart to a hospital across the frozen Gobi Desert, agreed to let an American Navy surgeon and fellow-prisoner operate on him with a pocket knife and without anesthesia.

He later said the Japanese agreed to permit the operation and let him ease the pain with liquor.

Johnson, a mess sergeant, was one of two Mukden prisoners promoted while a POW, his advancement in rank being recorded on toilet paper.

His “battlefield” promotion to officer came as a result of his dexterity in finding food to feed his starving companions.

He discovered that the millions of crows that settled in trees around Mukden after the ground thawed each spring produced thousands of eggs.

The prisoners stole and ate the crows’ eggs until the guards, none too well-fed themselves, forbade them to climb the trees.

Johnson said the Americans would then stage a diversionary fight so they could shimmy up the trees after the eggs.

After his retirement, he had worked as an inspector for the 6th Army at the San Francisco Presidio.

He moved to San Jose and ran a gas station for four years. Then, in early 1970s, he began work as a substitute custodian at the Mount Pleasant School District in San Jose.

His father was J.C. Johnsen, formerly of Washington and Kennard.

Survivors include his immediate family and a brother and sister, Lawrence Johnsen and Helen Wisely, both of Arizona.

(Note that Aaron's name is spelled Johnson, while later on in the obituary, his father's and his brother's name is spelled Johnsen.)

Pilot Tribune 28 Jan 1943

Another is Jap Prisoner

Word Received that Aaron J. Johnson Of Kennard Is War Prisoner

Announcement has been made by the war department that Aaron J. Johnson of Kennard is a prisoner of the Japanese. He was last known to be at Corregidor fortress in the Philippines during the American stand against the invaders.

In a previous announcement, the Kennard youth had been declared “missing in action” pending official investigation of his status.

Johnson is the second countian to be declared a prisoner recently. Staff Sergeant Gifford L. Dixon of Blair was revealed two weeks ago as a prisoner following the fall of the Philippines.

Pilot Tribune 1 April 1943

Prisoner Sends Word

Sergeant Aaron Johnson Broadcasts He Is Treated Well By Japs

From a Japanese prison camp, its location unrevealed, 25-year-old Staff Sergeant Aaron Johnson of Kennard has sent word to his father, Christian Johnson, that he is receiving “good treatment” from his Japanese captors.

Word came in the form of a broadcast from a Japanese prison camp last Thursday night in which a Japanese read in English this message, purportedly written by Sergeant Johnson:

“Mr. Johnson, box 25, Kennard, Nebraska. Dear Father: I am well and receiving good treatment form the Japaneses imperial forces here. We have excellent medical attention. I hope you are well. Love to all, Aaron.”

How much of the above is Aaron’s wording and how much is Japanese inspired is, of course, impossible to determine, but his relatives naturally were glad to hear, even indirectly, that he is apparently alive and well.

The broadcasting to America of such messages supposedly sent form American prisoners is a peculiarly effective propaganda idea of the Japanese. The aim to help break down American ill will toward the Japanese. There is, of course, no way of checking the circumstances surrounding the prisoners’ messages, inasmuch as the Nipponese do not follow established international rules of warfare and are extremely secretive concerning their supervision of prisoners.

Father Not Home

As received by Irwin F. Bender of Oberlin, Pennsylvania, the name of Kennard was given as “Knox” and pronounced “Kennox” by the Japanese letter reader. The Pennsylvanian took down the address and sent a letter to Nebraska, putting these directions on the envelope: “Please make effort to contact party. Radio message from American war prisoner of Japanese. If address is wrong, open at city hall at Lincoln, Nebr.”

The Omaha post office sent the letter to York, on a chance, and the postmaster there mailed it to Postmaster Fenton at Lincoln, under cover. It was then made public.

Sergeant Johnson’s father is currently in California, and had not yet received the message yesterday afternoon, but it had been relayed to his brother, Earl, who lives near Washington with an aunt. Also J? Christiansen, Sergeant Johnson’s sister, Mrs. Floyd Wisely, who moved to Decatur, Iowa, recently, also was notified.

Note: Aaron was buried in the Los Gatos Memorial Park Cemetery, San Jose Santa Clara County, California, USA. Find a Grave # 105640102

~~~ Obituary courtesy of the Washington County Genealogical Society. Newspaper clippings on file in the Blair Public Library at Blair, Nebraska.~~~

Printed in the Washington County Pilot-Tribune on 1/28/1943