Johnson, Albert E. (771st)

Albert-E-Johnson-1-Albert E. Johnson

Biography:  Albert Ernest Johnson was born on November 5, 1920, in Berwick, Maine.  He is the son of Dana Cleveland Johnson and Carrie Gertrude Ridlon and attended Alfred Elementary and High School in Alfred, ME, graduating in 1939.

After graduation, Albert worked as a truck driver and developed a great love of music, learning to play both the guitar and mandolin. He became good enough to play at the Grange Halls (National Grange Organization) with friends Dot and James Smiley. He also had the opportunity to play with a stringed group for 15 minutes, on the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, radio station.

Service Time:  Albert was drafted and entered the service on August 31, 1942, at Portland, Maine. He was initially sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts where he received his Army uniform and orders to proceed to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for basic training. Many years after the war, he recalled the calisthenics, morning routines at the direction of drill instructors and twenty-five mile hikes. They were also specialized training on firing the 105 mm howitzer.

During his training, he spent two weeks in the infirmary, diagnosed with Nasopharyngitis or  the common cold. Guard duty was a frequent assignment and on one occasion, Albert was on his four hour shift. He confronted  a soldier, for not stopping at the “halt” command. Albert thrust his M-1 rifle into the chest of the oncoming soldier. The soldier, a Major, did stop and complimented him on his attention to duty. In addition to his regular training, he also learned radio operations and Morse code.  

Albert E Johnson 3 Albert was sent to Fort Hood, Texas, and assigned to Company C of the 771st Tank Destroyer Battalion. They also traveled by rail to arrive at Fort Ethan Allen in Burlington, Vermont. From February 17th – 22nd, Albert was able to go on leave and visit his family. By March the unit was moved to the A.P. Hill reservation in Fredericksburg, Virginia. While on leave with a friend, Dennis Desmond, in Richmond, VA, the boys ended up late, coming back to camp. The camp commander, Captain Van Tassel, wasn’t very happy and the friends each lost a stripe of rank and spent a month on K.P.(kitchen patrol). By early July, Albert had redeemed himself and was again allowed on leave and visited his family in Maine.

By September 6th, the unit was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, doing final preparations for the trip overseas. They shipped out from the New York port on October 21, 1943, aboard the ship Capetown Castle, and arrived at Liverpool, England, on November 2nd. The 771st was chosen to train other TD personnel in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) Troop Replacement system.

Company A would move out and act as an advanced unit to ship to France in late August 1944. The rest of the battalion, would ship out on September 15th and join them on the mainland. They were equipped with M10 tank destroyers and entered combat with the 102nd Infantry Division against the Siegfried Line defenses, positioned along the Würm River on November 3rd. The unit spent twelve days providing artillery support for actions in the Huertgen forest. Albert’s crew member, gunner Cpl. Louis R. Samuelson was wounded on November 9th, by a German sniper, while relieving himself and was then replaced by Cpl. Stanley Bernstein. They were ordered to Heerlen, Holland, to affect repairs on their TD, prior to their advance into Germany.

On November 20, 1944, Albert’s TD was near Gereonsweiler and Apweiler, Germany and Sgt. Louis Klein, the TD commander, ordered them forward when two advancing German tanks were spotted. With quick and accurate firing of the 3″ gun, the two German Panther tanks were disabled. Their TD ran out of armor piercing ammunition when a third German tank approached and fired at them. Albert radioed desperately for additional ammunition but Sgt. Klein refused to leave the battlefield to rearm. Loader, Pvt. Walden, resorted to firing high explosive shells, which were useless against the German tanks. The third Panther fired three shells at their TD. The first hit the dirt harmlessly but the second shell hit the side and the third shell exploded in the turret area, killing Cpl. Stanley Bernstein. Albert was in position as radio operator when they were hit and was injured along with the other members of the crew, Sgt. Klein and driver T/5 William F. Pacuilla. Albert was evacuated to a hospital in Belgium. Pvt. Walden and Sgt. Klein were awarded the Silver Star for their actions during the conflict.

Albert was sent back to England and spent six weeks recuperating, Albert was reassigned to the Army Air Corps, 9th Air Force and the 40th Mobile Communication Squadron. He continued in his radio communications specialty while stationed in France and would receive additional training in radio technology for six weeks before being assigned to the 361st Airdrome Squadron. They were scheduled to be sent to the Pacific but it was called off after the Japanese surrendered. Albert was transferred to the 37th Station Camp and finally to the 984th Military Police prior to him sailing home aboard the USS Enterprise.

C Company of the 771st received a Distinguished Unit Citation for their actions during the November 16-20, 1944, period. Albert received the Purple Heart and was discharged on December 5, 1945, at a Private First Class.

My Dad’s War – Additional details about Albert’s military service by his son David.

Albert E. Johnson 4Now back in the U.S., Albert worked at a few locations but retired as a plastics inspector for the Company Division of Cyro, in Sanford, Maine. On June 21, 1946, he married the former Rita Grace Babcock, who was born in Sanford, ME, and was the daughter of Walter R. Babcock and Grace Evelyn Ridley.  The couple made their residence in Alfred, ME, and had one son, David, in 1947, and a daughter Donna born in 1948.  When he wasn’t working, Albert enjoyed playing the mandolin and fishing and was a member of the American Legion. Toward the end of his life, Albert moved to Gulfpoint, Florida, to live with his son and daughter-in-law.

The photo above was taken on June 6, 2014, as part of Albert’s Honor Flight to Washington D.C. and the WWII Memorial. Albert is seated center with the Bomber Girls who volunteer their time in support of military charities, like the Honor Flight organization.

Albert passed away on October 22, 2015, and was buried in the Evergreen Cemetery in Alfred, Maine. I want to thank Albert’s son, David, for providing this information and photo of his dad. I also want to thank Find A Grave contributor Frank Chesley for the grave marker image.Albert E Johnson 2