Fred Johnston was a cook and baker in the 471st Ordinance Evacuation Company of Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. The 471st carried ammunition to the front and recovered heavy materiel such as damaged tanks and self-propelled artillery.
Born in 1924, Fred's war experience began in the small town of Galion, Ohio, where he was drafted by the U.S. Army one year after graduating from high school in 1942. Sent to Fort Campbell, Ky., the medical exam taken at his induction found sugar in his urine. He was hospitalized, a treatment was established and he was eventually certified to enter the armed forces. Fort Chaffee, Ark. was the next base Fred would see, and it was there that he took his basic training.
Photo courtesy of Fred Johnston
Fred Johnston in 1943. When discharged in 1945, he had earned the rank of technician - equivalent to a corporal.
During the course of testing at Fort Chafee, the Army discovered that Fred had experience with meat and groceries, having worked in a grocery store back in his home town. "I guess they needed cooks, and anybody with any grocery experience was qualified," Fred recalled with a grin. After attending cook and baker school, he became a baker responsible for preparing cakes and pies for 200 men, a job with the potential of boosting the morale of men who loved a hot meal with dessert after days of C-rations.
Fred boarded a train and headed for the desert training center at Goffs, Calif., where he was assigned to the 471st Ordinance Evacuation Company. He left Goffs in January of 1944 and proceeded by train to Camp Kilmer, N.J., where he boarded the Cunard Line's Aquitania, pressed into troop transport service during the war. "It was some ship," Fred recalled. "It was three football fields long and really plush."
Fred and his outfit arrived in Scotland on Feb. 28, 1944, then moved by train to Southampton, England. While in Southampton, Fred was exposed to his first enemy attack when he and a buddy watched a German V1 buzz-bomb pass overhead and explode in the distance. In July, his outfit boarded LCTs and landed at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France exactly one month after the allied invasion.
"We traveled across France moving our bivouac about every three days as the front line moved toward Germany," Fred remembered. "We lived in pup tents and set up our mobile kitchens on the ground out in the open wherever we could. It took us only about 30 minutes to unload our cooking equipment off of trucks and get a meal started." In those days, field kitchens used gasoline-powered ranges and obtained their food by truck from collection centers well to the rear of the fighting. "We fed our guys well and they really appreciated having hot meals," Fred said.
Like young men today, Fred and crew occasionally did "stupid stuff" to relieve the monotony and hard work. "We cooks shaved our heads and, when we had hair, we dyed it orange just for laughs."
The cooks bartered with French citizens to obtain fresh eggs, liquor and other local foodstuffs. "We didn't have it too bad," Fred recalled. "But the war came home to roost when one of our convoys, returning empty from the front, was strafed by an enemy fighter plane. One man was killed and the remainder of the squad suffered pretty bad wounds.
"I was able to take some leave time and got to see Napoleon's castle at Fontainebleau, where I was awed by its opulence and all the bee embroidery on just about every fabric in sight. We got to go to Paris, after it was opened up, and saw all the sights, including the Folies Bergere, the bars and some other stuff I'm reluctant to mention," Fred said.
Back at war, Fred's unit moved to a Third Army division staging area at Esch in southern Luxemburg, prior to the invasion of Germany. While there, the Battle of the Bulge raged to the north and, due to the enormous amount of equipment and materiel in the staging area, the division was ordered to hold its ground no matter what the cost. "I guess the Germans were too occupied at the Bulge, because they didn't attack our division," Fred said.
On April 3, 1945, Fred's unit crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge and entered Germany. In another month, the war in Europe came to an end. Fred took a leave and returned to England, where he had made friends with a family while stationed in Southampton. "I had met a girl there and I think she thought I was going to ask her to marry me," Fred said, "but I didn't."
After his leave, he returned to his unit only to find they had already left for the States. "I finally got hooked up with another company and returned to the U.S. We landed in New Jersey on Dec. 1, 1945 and I was separated from the Army at Indiantown Gap, Penn., then I headed home to Galion, where my Dad met me at the train. Boy, was I ever glad to get back."
Fred would meet and marry his wife, Alice, while working in Galion at North Electric, where she also held a job. He first met her when she was 12 years old and was stunned to see how she had grown up to be such a beauty. "It took me a while to get a date, but she finally said she'd go with me if I went to church with her on Sunday."
Fred agreed to her request, their relationship blossomed and, on Jan. 3, 1948, they were married. Fred's Baptist church attendance led to his salvation and a quest for the ministry. He and Alice moved to Philadelphia, where he attended a biblical university, then relocated to Wheaton, Ill., where he earned a bachelor's degree in biblical education. He would later earn a master's in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary.
The years passed quickly, as Fred and Alice accepted a number of ministerial assignments in various parts of the Midwest and South, ending in an 18-year ministry at the New Orleans Bible Church in Metairie, La. Fred retired from the ministry in 1985 and moved to Newark in 1993 to be close to his son Paul's family in Fremont. Fred and Alice have a second son, Joe, who lives in Antioch and, between the two siblings, the family boasts six grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Fred and Alice moved to Brentwood's Summerset II in 2000, where they joined the Golden Hills Community Church. Fred sings in the choir and also became a Summerset Singer. He teaches a care group Bible study class during the school year and enjoys playing golf.
"We've gotten involved and made so many friends (in Brentwood) that we're just really glad we moved here."