BY DUANE A. VACHON, PH.D. It should come as no surprise to those of you reading this that all heroes don’t throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies’ lives or capture a machine gun nest single handedly. Most don’t receive the Medal of Honor.
Wayne Archer Johnson was a hero, a quiet achiever who like many of those who serve in our military was prepared to put his life on the line for his buddies and their families. For the most part these quiet achievers do what needs to be done because that is what Americans do. Our country today is what it is not because of our leaders but because of our quiet achievers.
Most of you have never heard of Wayne Archer Johnson. Let me fill you in. He was born at Beaver Dam, Ohio in 1931 and lived in Lima Ohio for many years. When he died in June 2011 he left his mother who is more than 100 now, 2 brothers and 1 sister.
For many years Johnson had made his home with his brother and his family at San Marcos Texas.
PFC Wayne “Johnnie” Johnson was a member of L Company, 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division that was on Occupation duty in Japan; he was a Scout in that unit.
When the Korean War broke out the units of the 24th were rushed to Korea to meet the onslaught of the North Korean Army. They were out gunned and outnumbered and soon they suffered many casualties and many were captured. Johnson was among those captured during the early days of July 1950.
As one of the earliest American POWs, he was interned in the “Apex” POW camps at the northern tip of North Korea. The Apex camps were administered by the North Koreans. Life under the North Koreans was especially harsh and many of the POWs died there. “Johnnie” Johnson thought that someone needed to record the names of the men who died or were shot and he took it upon himself to record the names of as many deaths as possible so families back home would know what happened to their loved ones. He found scraps of paper and bits and pieces of pencils and kept his valuable list. He did this at great personal risk. If the North Koreans had discovered his list he would probably have been summarily executed.
He accomplished this in secret. He had no idea how important this list would become.
The “LIST” grew to over 500 names during his imprisonment. This LIST also contained the date, places and causes of death and information of home town etc.
“Johnnie” Johnson told debriefing Officers of his list and a note was made of it, but no one seemed interested in it. Nevertheless, Johnny held onto it and would never loan it out not even to the FBI.
Then, during the summer of 1996, Johnny told a group of other Tiger Survivors about his list at a reunion in Evansville, Indiana. Work began immediately on making a list of all the Tiger Survivors including the living and the dead, the soldiers and the civilians.
With the help of Command Sergeant Major Tim Casey and Johnson’s list, the entire group of Tiger Survivors was accounted for.
CSM Casey noticed that a note had been made when Johnny came home about the list and he notified the Department of the Army. Before long, Johnson was awarded a Silver Star Medal, the nation’s third highest military combat decoration for valor.
There were 835 people, including 81 multi- national Civilians, with the Tiger Survivors; 58 percent died in captivity and are still there in North Korea.
Johnson’s list is now a treasured document and will be donated to the POW/MIA Museum at Andersonville, Georgia at the Andersonville National Historic Site.
Awarded for actions during the Korean War
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Private First Class Wayne A. Johnson (ASN: RA-15281155), United States Army, for gallantry in action during the period 12 July 1950 to 16 August 1953, while being held as a Prisoner of War in Tiger Camp by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Private First Class Johnson subjected himself to the risk of execution by his captors. He did so by compiling and maintaining a list of over 500 American POWs, most of whom had died in the camp system. Even when the Chinese guards were tipped off about the list and destroyed it, Private First Class Johnson able to convince his captors that the list was intended for humanitarian and not propaganda purposes, and was released with a threat of harsher consequences, should he continue this activity. Regardless of their warning, Private First Class Johnson continued to add names to a hidden copy of the original list. When he was released during the armistice, he smuggled his comprehensive list home in a toothpaste tube. As a result of efforts by the Defense POW/MIA Office, this list has come to light and is serving as an important document for providing confirmation of death or otherwise resolving open POW/MIA cases. Private First Class Johnson’s exemplary courage and selfless determination to provide a record of deceased soldiers, even in the face of death by a hostile enemy, are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Action Date: July 12, 1950 – August 16, 1953
Rank: Private First Class
Division: Prisoner of War (Korean War)
PFC Wayne Archer Johnson was laid to rest at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, San Antonio Texas, USA
Plot: Section 82 Site 8
The information in this article was sourced from a variety of sources both internal and external. Every effort was made to ensure that the information is current and correct. These articles are presented to honor the heroes they are written about.