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CURTIS L. JOHNSON

BASIC TRAINING
Curtis L. Johnson enlisted in Milwaukee, WI on 3 Dec 1942 and volunteered for parachutist duty. He was sent to Camp Toccoa, GA for basic training and soon was transferred to the 508th.

On 17 Dec 1943, following an overnight train ride,  he was one of approximately 170 men arriving at Camp Blanding, FlL and assigned to the Hq Company, 3rd Battalion.  Although his time at Toccoa permitted only an abbreviated basic training, he was whipped into shape by the regimen at Blanding before the regiment pulled out on 19 Feb 1943 and headed for Fort Benning's jump school.

Following jump school, the regiment went through advanced training at Camp Mackall, NC including maneuvers at Camp Croft, SC and the infamous Tennessee Maneuvers where they received a real taste of combat conditions.

On 28 Dec 1943, the regiment sailed from New York City's harbor for 12 days of tossing on the North Atlantic before debarking in Belfast, Ireland for an additional three months of field training.  In March 1944 the unit relocated to Nottingham, England and began the final phases of training, including night jumps, before going into combat.

D-Day
On the night of June 5, 1944 Curtis was one of the hundreds of men who loaded aboard C-47 and C-53 aircraft at RAF Folkingham for the transit of the English Channel in Operation Overlord, Mission Boston as the D-Day invasion of France got underway.  As it turned out, he was to be a very lucky man, on multiple occasions, that day.

Curtis recalled, "During the flight over the Channel, a soldier next to me asked to exchange positions in the jump stick because [he] was number 13 in the stick.  I said sure and we swapped places.  As the C-47 crossed the coast of France, it started to receive ground fire and flak. The fellow exchanged places with [me] died on the plane from that fire before the red light came on.

During the jump I saw tracers flying everywhere and some of them started swinging [my] way. There was nothing I could do and my chute was full of holes and 5 or 6 lines [were] cut before I hit the ground.

Upon landing in a ditch, I cut myself free from the parachute. I heard shooting all around but never saw another live paratrooper. I went over to another trooper and found him dead.

Shortly several bullets struck the ammo I was carrying and glanced away from my heart and one buried itself in my left shoulder. Fortunately for me I was loaded down [with] .30 cal MG ammo belts that crisscrossed my chest.

I landed virtually on top of a German Tank park and kept firing at anyone who approached the vehicles.  I was wounded again under my right arm and right wrist during the continuing firefight. I think I may have hit 5 or 6 Germans; it was hard to tell how many I hit in the dark, before I ran out of ammo for my rifle and passed out from loss of blood sometime just after dawn. I think I killed 3 Germans."

Curtis continued, "I woke up after noon still lying in the ditch looking at some red poppies and blue sky. German soldiers were walking by all around assuming I was dead.  With no ammo and severely wounded, I decided the best thing to do was surrender.  When I stood up in the ditch with my hands raised Germans panicked and shot several times until they saw I was surrendering.  The captors then took everything I had on me (about $4 in Francs, my clothes, boots, and gear right down to my skivvies) except for a bloody piece of my parachute that I used as a bandage.

I was treated by the local Battalion Medical Officer. The building I was supposed to stay in was overcrowded and so I was locked up nearby when the building was bombed.  After that day I was loaded in a marked ambulance with several wounded.  After the ambulance traveled some time, Allied aircraft attacked it killing everyone but me.  I was wounded again by this attack with several fragments to my face and chest. I waited by the burning ambulance for several hours before another German vehicle came along and picked me up."

From "They Were On Utah Beach (The story of D-Day, told by veterans)", by Laurent LeFebvre (pp 134-135 and pg 184).
As told by Curtis L. Johnson, 82nd Airborne Division, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment Headquarters Company 3rd Battalion.

STALAG 221
LUCK CONTINUES TO HOLD
Pfc
Johnson's luck didn't end there as he was taken to Stalag 221, a German POW hospital in Rennes, France nearly 200 miles SSW of Ste Mere Eglise. His medical record indicates that he was first seen on 13 June 1944.  Using a mixture of German, French and English, page 1 of his "Feuile de Maladie" (record of illness) lists his ASN, rank and his primary wound as "Bullets, left chest"..  He was assigned to Bed #22B.

The Stalag 221 hospital was attended to by American, Canadian, and British POW's who were medical officers and surgeons.  A German Major oversaw he facility which was in a building that had previously been a girl's school in downtown Rennes..

Page 2 shows his date of wound as 6 June 44 and describes it as a "Large gutter wound left cheek and (illegible).  Debridement by Jerries. Pectoralis Major severed. Movement of hand normal. This wound left wrist."

On 14 June 44, his apparent date of hospitalization, what appears to be a doctor's order states, "Wound appears clean.  (Dalsin?) and sulphur powder dressing. Redress 2 days."

The fact that these two entries appear in English while all remaining entries are in French is curious. Especially noticeable is the fact that the term "Jerries" is used when describing his debridement. It clearly was not written by a French or German doctor.

In the days following, additional attention was given to his wound:

26-06-44 - bandage with exoseptoplix (chlorhexidine, an antiseptic and germicide)
02-07-44 - bandage with exoseptoplix
12-07-44 - bandage amoniaque (ammonia) and ether plus exoseptoplix
18-07-44 - bandage decapage (scouring) with ether
21-07-44 - bandage ether application exoseptoplix
22-07-44 - bandage ether application exoseptoplix
25-07-44 - bandage with exoseptoplix
29-07-44 - bandage with exoseptoplix
31-07-44 - bandage with exoseptoplix

(translations courtesy of Dominique Potier and wife, Dr. Potier, of Belgium)

This regimen of cleaning and redressing the wound was effective and Curt was able to reassure his parents in a letter home that he had healed from the injuries.

LAST WORD HOME
While incarcerated there, he wrote a letter (shown to the left) to his parents, the only one that they received.  His return address is "Front Stalag 221, Rennes followed by a pre-printed " (Frankreich)", German for France.

He wrote, "Again what to say is a problem. There isn't too much space so I will start."  This opening lime is apparently a reference to the censorship imposed before he went into combat.

Curtis continued,  "I have been wounded twice, the wounds have been treated and I am almost as good as new.  I'm getting treated quite well and have a lot of time with nothing to do . Eat and sleep, what a life.  Of course you will inform Rhoda and everyone of my current status.  Boy, it will be great to get home again.  I hope you will be able to read this.  Don't be alarmed at my being wounded.  It isn't too painful, or rather it wasn't.  I got a bullet in the arm and chest or rather the shoulder but I'm still very healthy.  The other half of this sheet is for your reply.  Keep up the good work and don't worry.  I'm swell.  - Curt"

THE BREAKOUT
Curtis was examined at least nine times while in the Stalag 221 hospital, the last instance being on 31 July 1944.  The following day, the 4th Armored Division and Third Army began an assault on the city of Rennes sending its 80,00 inhabitants fleeing for cover.

The confusion created an opportunity.  Curt's son Dale recounts his father's tale of escape,

"As the artillery came closer the German guards went into their bunkers, leaving the hospitalized POWs alone.  My father and several others then killed a guard and walked out of the compound, leaning on each other for support.  Shortly in the town, they met members of the French Resistance who harbored them until they could be liberated.  His letters indicate that he rejoined the Yanks on 7 August 1944 and another V-Mail has his written date as 4 August 1944 (the day the 13th Infantry took Rennes).  His letters also seemed to imply that he saw some very unpleasant things during this time (“man’s inhumanity to man”) but he never elaborated."

National Archives records indicate that Curtis L. Johnson was a POW in Stalag 17B Braunau Gneikendorf, near Krems, Austria.  His presence there was first officially reported on 10 November 1944 and was "Returned to Military Control, Liberated or Repatriated" on 10 August 1945. The family is attempting to have that record corrected.

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