Kenneth G. Johnson (1921-2014)
Born in 1921 of Swedish immigrant parents, Ken attended Glen Ridge public schools, played football, and graduated in 1940. Before going to college, he worked at Western Electric, the manufacturing arm of AT&T. In 1942, he enlisted in the 101st Airborne, which was a brand-new division with rigorous requirements. He reported to Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and was one of the 2,100 trainees out of 7,000 who had entered the program to qualify as a paratrooper. From its inception in September 1942 to the end of World War II in 1945, Ken served in the “Screaming Eagles,”101st Airborne, Company H, 3rd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
Ken was wounded in action on June 6,1944 in Normandy, France, and on January 5,1945 in Bastogne, Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge. He participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, jumping in the night before on June 5th to disrupt Nazi positions in occupied France. The following September he jumped into Holland during Operation Market Garden. The mission was noted for its “Hell’s Highway” battle and the “bridge too far” in Arnhem. Finally, Ken and his unit were trucked into Belgium to push back the surprise Nazi offensive in the Ardennes Forest at the Battle of the Bulge. The 101st Airborne was ultimately surrounded but refused to surrender, responding “Nuts” to the Nazi commander. Ken was wounded there on January 5th, 1945.
After returning from the European theater on the Queen Elizabeth, while still recovering from wounds suffered at the Battle of the Bulge, he married a Glen Ridge girl, Margaret Egan, on December 15, 1945. He soon completed engineering school, graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson with a degree in Mechanical Engineering and then worked for Western Electric (AT&T) for forty years. He was an incredible father and grandfather to his two daughters and four grandchildren, in addition to three great grandchildren. His philosophy in life was positive, based on his belief that “it’s all attitude.” Prior to his death on Memorial Day, 2014, Ken received the coveted DOR—Distinguished Member of the Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and, in addition, the French Legion of Honor.
Some of his other awards and citations include:
- Three battle stars from each campaign,
- Combat Infantry Badge,
- Good Conduct Medal,
- Presidential Unit Citation with Oak Leaf Cluster for Normandy and Bastogne (the only division to receive it twice),
- Bronze Stars,
- Bronze Arrowhead,
- Victory Medal,
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal,
- Orange Lanyard of the Royal Netherlands Army,
- French Croix de Guerrero with Palm,
- Belgian Fourragère,
- Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster (for Bastogne and Normandy).