Veteran Stories:
James Victor “Vic” Johnson

Army

  • James Johnson south of the Imjin River in 1952.

    James Johnson
  • James Johnson at a Memory Project event in Ottawa, Ontario. August, 2012.

    James Johnson
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"I would get in there, be laying on my stomach with a bayonet, chipping away very generally at the ice around this mine so I could expose the striker on it and put a pin in it to neutralize it."

Transcript

In Korea there was—well, a lot of people said it was an engineer’s war because we were into a country with no roads. There were very few roads and mountainous, either mountainous or paddy fields. Rice paddies. We had to improve whatever we could there to get roads out so that they could get up to the battalion positions and so forth. So we were working on that type of thing, plus as a troop officer, I was liaison with the PPCLI [Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry] in this case. Anything engineer-wise that they had come up with, I had to go up and check out. I got involved there very early on. The infantry, whenever they moved their position, you know, every time they went in, they wouldn't take over the position that was there before because obviously it was ranged in by the Chinese artillery. So they'd move the platoon or section position someplace and they always put it in the middle of a minefield. So I had to go in and clear mines to arrange for these positions. It was winter time and there was a fair bit of ice and that and a lot of the mines were covered with ice. So I would get in there, be laying on my stomach with a bayonet, chipping away very generally at the ice around this mine so I could expose the striker on it and put a pin in it to neutralize it. This lasted for a couple days over the thing and I'm in this time, chipping away at this mine and there's this loud noise and I thought the mine has gone off. And then I said well, this can't be 'cause I'm still here. Found out it was—the Americans had an 8-inch battery of guns and they were firing and they were firing just over, you know, they were just clearing the crest of the hill that I was on. So I could hear the snap every time one went over, plus the noise. Anyway, that sort of shook me up for a couple of minutes. The other thing we had was—well, any time the infantry had a problem and they'd have a raid or something come in and the first thing they say, “Well, the minefields didn't work, you know, because the Chinese got up to our position.” So I would say to them, “Well, the minefields don't stop people, they're just there to provide a warning that they're coming and so you can take action.” Oh no. I always remember this one, the PPCLI were on “The Hook,” which got great play with the Marines [United States Marine Corps] when they came in and took over. They had a section out forward of their main position and the Chinese put in an attacked. The troop sergeant called everyone, get into your bunkers. And he called down our own artillery on the position. From that, he won the DCM [Distinguished Conduct Medal] that night. Next morning, I got a call because the minefields didn't stop this Chinese group. So I go up there and go out onto the position. The minefields lay in front of the thing [Canadian positions], I counted 35 dead Chinese and I said, “Look, it worked," you know. "That's what it's supposed to do.”
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