PFC Thomas Frank Johnson, USMC
December 30, 1924 – November 22, 1943
Thomas was a California boy, born in Hollister on 30 December 1924 and raised in Santa Clara County along with his siblings Marjorie, Hugh, and Kenneth. Thomas grew up on a dairy farm as a child. The three brothers were very close growing up and spent a lot of their free time fishing and swimming the local lakes and streams of the Santa Clara Valley. Thomas, enlisted in the Marine Corps at the age of seventeen at the end of 1941, and was technically too young to serve – provided he could get parental permission. This was apparently granted once the school year ended, and on 20 July 1942, Thomas became the second Johnson brother to join the Marines. He completed boot camp in San Diego, and after a brief spell with an anti-tank unit, was assigned to the regimental headquarters of the 6th Marines in October 1942. This venerable regiment had recently returned from a deployment in Iceland, and was quickly making preparations to head to the South Pacific – so quickly, in fact, that the day after Private Johnson joined the unit they boarded the SS Matsonia and sailed from San Diego.
The Johnson brothers would briefly cross paths on Guadalcanal. Although their regiments were assigned to different camps, Hugh and Thomas would see each other in New Zealand. The brothers would fight in the same battle one more time, but they would never see each other again. On 21 November 1943, Thomas, fortunately, never knew of his brother’s fate. His battalion came ashore to the west, on Beach Green, later that evening. After a rubber boat ride to shore and an anxious night under fire, Thomas’ company moved out in the assault on the morning of 22 November.
When night fell, Company B was told belatedly to dig in and prepare for a Japanese counterattack. They would weather three altogether, although Thomas himself likely experienced only one or two. During the action, Johnson’s squad began to run low on ammunition. The nearest supply point was just forty yards away, but getting there through the storm of rifle and machine gun fire seemed impossible. Thomas Johnson volunteered to try. He left his foxhole and scurried back to the rear, where he gathered as much ammunition as he could find. As he tried to run back, however, shrapnel from a shell or grenade hit him in the chest. With his last few breaths, he managed to get the ammo to his buddies before dying on the sand. He was just a month shy of nineteen years old.
News of the brothers’ joint demise reached San Jose around Christmastime. Kenneth, the last surviving Johnson brother, also enlisted in the Marines, but following the deaths of Hugh and Thomas, he was not allowed to serve overseas. The local VFW post was renamed “Hugh Thomas Johnson,” and the elder Thomas would receive his son’s posthumous Silver Star in a ceremony there.
Celebration of Life
Monday, November 23, 2020