Charles R. Johnson
The following is the story of Charles Johnson as told by an Outpost Harry Survivor, Donald Dingee, to Anthony Farmer of the Poughkeepsie Journal.
Charles Johnson from family photos
This article, "Charlie Johnson, local Korean War hero" appeared in the June 19, 2001 issue of the Poughkeepsie Journal written by Anthony Farmer
Copyright 2002, Poughkeepsie Journal. Reprinted with permission.
Charles Johnson lived his life thinking of others, and 48 years ago this month he lost his life the same way.
A recent chance meeting between Dingee and Johnson's brother Glenn led to the hero's brothers and sisters hearing, for the first time, the full story of what happened, that horrible night in the hills of Korea.
"I thank God every morning as I wake up I'm here," Dingee said "There weren't many men made it off that hill. If Charlie hadn't been there ... I don't think any of the eight of
us would have made it.”
"There's an uncanny consistency between the way he lived his life before the military and his deeds that night," Glenn Johnson said. "He was willing to go do what was required and didn't seem to have any fear, or reluctance."
The war began in June 1950 when North Korea attacked South Korea and didn't end until a late July 1953. President Truman called on the United Nations to take action following the 1950 attack, eventually enabling the United States to send forces to Korea. China fought with North Korea.
Nearly 55,000 Americans died during the Korean War, including some 33,000 killed in action. More than 8,000 Americans are missing in action. American estimates of enemy casualties, including prisoners, topped 1.5 million, with nearly two thirds being Chinese.
The conflict in Korea is often referred to as the "forgotten war." But for those who served there, and the families of those who died there, forgetting is not an option.
Johnson was an all American kid who excelled at just about everything he tried - school, music, athletics and always gave of himself, said Geraldine Johnson, his sister.
Though he only spent his senior year at Arlington after transferring from Millbrook, Johnson was class vice president and co-captain of the basketball team. He also earned the "Babe Ruth" award for outstanding citizenship and participation in church and community affairs.
According to news accounts at the time of Johnson's death, Arlington Superintendent Harold Storm called him "One of the finest and best liked students we ever had."
"Charles was a gentleman and a great humanitarian," 'Arlington Coach Fritz Jordan was quoted as saying at the time. "He died as he lived, thinking of his fellow man first.
Dingee first ran into Johnson in Korea in May 1953, about two month's after Johnson had shipped out for Korea. Dingee and several other soldiers were on garbage detail, digging six foot by six foot holes in the ground, when a group of soldiers headed out on patrol came by.
The passing soldiers asked those on the garbage detail where they were from. Soldiers began shouting out various locations from around the country.
Dingee spoke up: "New York."
A voice responded, "Where from in New York?"
"Ever hear of Poughkeepsie?" Dingee replied.
Dingee looked up and saw his friend Johnson standing there. Johnson reached into the hole and picked Dingee up and the two hugged.
After Johnson returned from patrol, the two stayed up most of the night talking of home.
The two saw plenty of action at Outpost Harry and as infantrymen spent a good deal of time on the front line.
Dingee and Johnson's company was on counter attack duty, away from the front, and on June 11 they were called back to the front to retake the hill, which they did.
Just after midnight on June 12, the Chinese and North Koreans launched another assault on Outpost Harry, a chunk of dry, rocky terrain in the Chorwon Valley (Ed. OP Harry was located to the east of the Chorwon Valley; OP Tom and Jackson Heights were in the Chorwon Valley. Click here to view a map of the area.)
Johnson, Dingee and a third soldier, Robert Hooker, were set up in a bunker at the top of the hill as the fight started. The first wave of enemy soldiers were armed mostly with grenades and artillery shells were coming in regularly.
"We just kept knocking them off and knocking them off and they just kept coming," Dingee recalled. "It just kept coming."
After a couple of hours of fighting, Dingee moved out of the bunker to the side, where he still had cover, to get a better sight line on the approaching enemy.
Around 3 am, Dingee began running low on ammunition as the shells continued to rain down around them. About that time he took a piece of shrapnel in his right biceps; where he has a scar about the size of a quarter.
They were knocked out cold by the blast, and Dingee woke up about 10 minutes later. Johnson and Hooker were still unconscious, but alive.
It was pitch dark and Dingee went out of the back of the bunker looking for his weapon. As he did, a flare went up.
"And there he was, not more than 50 yards away," Dingee said of a Chinese soldier.
The enemy soldier pulled the pin from a grenade and tossed it in Dingee's direction. It went into the bunker.
"He says `Play dead, they're outside and coming in." Dingee recalled. "We all just held our breath."
"One of the guys walked over to Hooker, rammed him through with a bayonet and left." Dingee said
As soon as the enemy soldiers were far enough away, the two checked on Hooker. He was still alive! Johnson and Dingee took off their shirts and began tearing them up. Johnson used some of the shirt pieces to dress Hooker's wounds.
The Chinese soldiers had taken their weapons as they came through the bunker, so they were left unarmed.
Johnson then took off his belt, locked it closed and had Dingee hold on to it while he dragged him more than 150 yards to a bunker on the backside of the hill where two other injured soldiers were awaiting help.
Suddenly, two Chinese soldiers started coming toward Hooker, as Dingee and Johnson tried to stay out of view: The Chinese soldiers picked Hooker up and begin carrying him off.
Just then, another American soldier nearby saw what was going on and shot one of the enemy soldiers. Hooker grabbed the Chinese soldier's knife and stabbed the other soldier, who was still holding him under his arms, killing him.
Hooker again, managed to make his way toward the bunker, where Johnson and Dingee were. (ed. Hooker was confused and started going toward the enemy line and was eventually found by friendly troops and taken to a MASH unit, then by train with Dingee and finally flown to Japan and hospitalized.)
Two other soldiers already in the bunker "are out, of it," Dingee said. A nearby bunker held four other wounded American soldiers.
Johnson left the bunker for a few minutes and returned with weapons. The American forces were totally overrun at this point, but Johnson said he would go out and try to hold them off.
That was the last time Dingee saw his friend alive.
About 5 am. it started to rain.
Dingee heard the firing becoming more sporadic.
"And no one came."
Finally, at 5:45 am, the reserves came up to the bunker where Dingee was.
©Copyright 2002, Donald Dingee. All rights reserved