Virgil Odean Johnson was born March 12, 1923, near Irene, South Dakota. Of
Norwegian ancestry and raised in the Lutheran faith, Virgil was a
college student before entering the service on February 22, 1943.
Service Record: Virgil received his basic training at Jefferson Barracks, St.
Louis, Missouri, his college training detachment at Washington
University, St. Louis, Missouri; his preflight navigation at
Ellington Air Force Base, Houston, Texas; his aerial gunnery at
Harlingen Air Force Base, Harlingen, Texas; his advanced navigation
at Hondo Air Force Base, Hondo, Texas; operational training at
Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, Colorado. Lt. Johnson was
stationed at an Air Force Base at Manduria, Italy, where he served
as a navigator on a B-24 Liberator bomber. Johnson participated in
bombing missions to Czechoslovakia, Romania, Austria, southern
France, and northern Italy.
Camp Encounter: On June 26, 1944, Lt. Johnson was captured in Austria by the
home guard (Landwacht) after parachuting out of a burning plane. He
was held at Stalag Luft III and later Stalag VIIA. The following is
his own story, told in his own words:
I spent most of my time as a prisoner of war in two camps. I was
at Stalag Luft III at Sagan (East Germany, now in Poland) from July
5, 1944, until January 27, 1945.
When the Russians approached, we were marched about 70 miles and
then loaded on box cars and taken to Stalag VIIA at Moosburg in
Bavaria, Germany. We arrived there about February 7, 1945, and were
liberated by the 14th Armored Division on April 29, 1945.
At Stalag Luft III we
were prisoners of the German Air Force, but at Stalag VIIA we were
in the custody of the German Army. Sufficient food was always a
problem, more so at Stalag VIIA. I was not tortured, but we were
subjected to some annoyance activities, such as extra long roll
calls, and searches of our living quarters. Time was long; we were
cold and hungry much of the time. I was still considered a member of
the 450th Bomb Group during imprisonment.
June 27 -- July 3, 1944 -- We were moved from Vienna to Frankfurt
on the Mainz, Germany. During these days I was in solitary
confinement for awhile and interrogated.
July 3-5, 1944 --We were moved by train to Sagan, East
Germany--now a part of Poland. Here I was placed in a prisoner of
war camp, called Stalag Luft 3. I was in Center Compound. Other
compounds in the camp were designated North, West, South, and East.
The North Compound was the site of the Great Escape in March, 1944.
About 75 escaped. Only 2 were successful. 50 were executed by the
July 5, 1944 -- January 28, 1945 --I was confined at Stalag Luft
January 28, 1945 -- The evening before we had been told to prepare
to move out. The Russian army was getting close and the Germans were
planning to move us to another camp. We were told to take only what
we could carry. I took a couple of blankets, some sugar lumps,
raisins, and a chocolate bar. I also took along the letters I had
received while a prisoner. We left camp at 3:00 AM. There was about
a foot of snow and the temperature was about 6 degrees above
zero--very cold. We marched all day and in late afternoon we came to
the village of Halbu. Here arrangements were made to sleep in a
church. Some slept on the pews and some on the floor. The church was
unheated. At that time it was a Lutheran Church--now being in Poland
it is a Catholic Church.
January 29, 1945 --We continued the march. Toward evening we came
to a small settlement. The weather had moderated. Here many of slept
in a haymow in a barn. We kept warm by burrowing into the hay.
January 30, 1945 -- We stay here for another day. We slept in the
January 31, 1945 --We marched out again. This time we came to a
pottery factory. We were quartered above the kilns. Here it was very
hot. We were here 3 nights.
February 3, 1945 -- We were on the road again. This night was
spent in another barn.
February 4, 1945 -- We went to a military installation at
Spremburg. Here we were loaded on boxcars and on February 7 we
arrived at Stalag 7A, a prisoner of war camp located at Moosburg,
Bavaria, Germany--not far from Munich. At Stalag Luft 3 we had been
prisoners of the German Air Force. At Stalag 7A the German Army was
April 29, 1945 -- At 10 AM the Protestant worship service was
about to begin in an open area of the camp. The Catholics had just
concluded their mass in the same place. A P-51 US fighter plane was
flying around the camp. We heard machine gun fire and thought the
Germans were shooting at it. However, the shooting continued and we
realized a battle was being fought in the area of the camp. We went
inside our barracks for safety. The battle raged for about 4 hours.
Then it got quiet. We looked out and saw the US flag flying over the
city hall at Moosburg. We ran out of the building and 10,000 men
wept like babies. The day of liberation -- longed for, hoped for,
prayed for--had finally come.
May 7, 1945 --Leaving Stalag 7A we were taken by truck to an
airfield at Ingolstadt, Germany. The war in Europe ended at
May 8, 1945 -- We were flown to Camp Lucky Strike at LeHavre,
France. Here we were cleaned up, issued clothing, given physicals,
and the military made arrangements for our return to the states.
May 18, 1945 -- We sailed for the USA on the SS Lejeune. We
left in a convoy because not all German submarines had been
accounted for. While en route the captain received notice that all
submarines were accounted for. At that time we left the convoy and
the ship proceeded alone.
June 3, 1945 -- We disembarked at Staten Island, New York. We were
taken by ferry to Jersey City, New Jersey. Here we boarded a train
that took us to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
June 9, 1945 -- I arrived home by train at Irene, SD. My mother
met me in Minneapolis and we came home together.