ALICE JOHNSON, a WWII Navy veteran, will serve as the Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal.

ALICE JOHNSON, a WWII Navy veteran, will serve as the Brunswick-Topsham Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal.


Alice Johnson signed up to serve her country on Oct. 14, 1944, her 20th birthday.

Johnson — who will be the Grand Marshal of Monday’s Memorial Day parade in Brunswick and Topsham — recalls the 1941 Sunday morning broadcast interrupted by the bulletin that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese. Johnson’s father, Henry Hart, a WWI veteran, wounded in France told her: “‘This means war.’ And he was right,” she said.

Johnson said all the able, young men immediately left the Colorado town in which she was raised during her senior year of high school, many of them had not yet graduated. Women, however, were not allowed to join until age 20, with parental consent.

In the three years following Pearl Harbor, she attended college, studying education, shorthand and typing. But finally, on her birthday, Johnson’s father signed for her, granting his permission for her to enlist. Her mother, Ferol, was more reticent about her daughter’s decision.

Johnson was then sent on a cross-country train journey to the Bronx, New York, for boot camp.

She laughed when remembering how she almost went AWOL before even reaching New York. During the train ride, Johnson and three other recruits jumped from the passenger car platform to sit in the open air on a caboose at the end of the train to smell the Kansas wheat fields through which they had been traveling. Soon after they went back to the passenger cars, the women noticed the caboose was on a separate track, having been uncoupled from the train. “I shudder now when I think about that — if all of us had been left high and dry with no identification or belongings.”

She said she doesn’t remember an onslaught of homesickness after she left her childhood home, adding it was exciting for her to be transferred to new cities. “I was always eager to transfer and go other places, and meet new people,” she said.

When asked if she considers herself to have been a woman before her time, with a slight smile she said, “I guess you could say that.”

Johnson served a little more than five years in the Navy as a yeoman, mostly performing clerical duties. She was stationed in San Francisco during the war and said the images of the street celebrations the day the end of the war was announced remain vivid in her memory. “Naturally, it was a feeling of exhilaration. There was a lot of rejoicing,” she said.

She was transferred to various cities in the country while still in the Navy and met her husband, George, then a Navy Personnelman, in Memphis. She remembered he was a handsome man, and she hoped he would ask her for a date. Their offices were in the same building, and she recalled how he brought her a Coca-Cola, and then would tease her about when she would repay him with one. “I said, ‘I always want to be indebted to you.’ I never repaid him, I married him instead,” she said.

The pair were wed just a few months after meeting.

The couple raised seven children and shared a life for 62 years until George’s death in 2011.

Johnson was discharged from the Navy during her first pregnancy, which was standard protocol at that time. She said she was not ready to leave the Navy and felt it was unfair, but said she had many good experiences in the service and remains in touch through letters with a Pennsylvania friend she met so many years ago.

Johnson said she is excited to ride in the parade as the Grand Marshal, and said her daughter, Kimberly, is coming from Indiana to ride with her. Another son, Mark, is traveling for Virginia to be here for the parade.

Her advice to women in the military now is, if it’s what you want to do, you should. “Don’t let anybody talk you out of it. I would recommend it.”

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