Interview With John L. Johnson

Excerpts from the interview with John L. Johnson of Portland, OR conducted by Tim Caldwell at the Fort Worden History Center on October 17, 2002. Mr. Johnson is the son of Major Ralph L. Johnson (1883-1966), who was Harbor Defense Puget Sound Commander in the early 1940’s. The Johnson family lived in Quarters 10W on Officers Row at Fort Worden.

Complete transcripts and recordings of this and all interviews conducted for the Fort Worden Oral History Program are available at a nominal fee to cover duplicating and shipping. Inquire at or 360.344.4481 for details.

About going to school:

“We went to school in town. At that time, the MPs had a canvas Army truck with wooden benches down the middle, and two more wooden benches on the outside. They would go around through all the sergeants’ quarters and all the officers’ quarters. They would come up behind the houses on Officers Row and stop at each one that had kids. There was a guy named Fred Testo who was a corporal who was an armed guard, he had a sidearm, a .45. He would stand out there holding on to the handrails that lined the stairway going into the back of the truck to try to keep order in the truck. These were all high school kids and grade school kids together, we all went to Port Townsend.”

About going to the movies:

“We used to go to the movies over here (now the Wheeler Theater), it used to cost a dime. It was just for military and their families and you could bring a friend, but you had to be with them for them to get in. The officers’ seats were all covered with white slipcovers, and no one except officers and their families and guests was allowed to sit in those seats.

I refused to sit there. I used to sit in the front row with my feet up on the stage because it was real close. Or else, I’d sit with my feet under me and I’d curl up in the corner. I was a little kid. A lot of times I would fall asleep in my seat and they would close the place down and I’d wake up and everybody’s gone.

When my sister and mom would go to the show, they would sit up there in the white seats and make me sit up there but I didn’t want to.”

About a bit of history not often discussed:

“(My father) was one of the first people who started closing down the fort. He was given orders by what later became the Pentagon, the Army take everything in the fort that was not on paper and ‘dispose of it’. It was supposed to be destroyed if it wasn’t on paper, it didn’t exist. They didn’t want anything here that there wasn’t a record of, so part of what he had to do was take things like ammunition that wasn’t on paper. I know that they jettisoned like 400 rounds of coast artillery ammunition. … He took it out in the deepest trench he could find and they just sank the boat.

They had several boats that were not on paper and that was one of the things they did was sink them. They had some fun firing on some of them, a couple of them. Usually they just sank them.

…When he started closing the fort, it was after the war, the war ended in ’45. They say that it wasn’t until ’52 or ’53, but that isn’t true. …The only people who later came, when the engineers were here, came here for the Korean War. Apparently they reopened it and they filled the place up again. But by that time, it had already been closed, and my dad closed it down.”

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