Staff Sergeant Charles R. Johnson of Sheridan, Wyoming, served as a U.S. Army infantryman in World War II. While serving with Company C, 168th Infantry Regiment, 34th Infantry Division in Italy, Staff Sgt. Johnson and his troops came under fire on January 1, 1944, in effort to breakthrough to Rome. For six days, Johnson and his men were engaged in active ground combat that led to the weakening and eventual withdrawal of the enemy’s defensive position. On January 7, Johnson maneuvered himself to fire upon a German emplacement and succeeded in killing two machine gunners firing on his unit. As another enemy soldier was running towards an American, Johnson charged him and two others, killing all three and restoring control to American forces.
Later that same day, 20 German soldiers advanced their company, but Johnson repelled the attack, killing two and wounding three others. Afterwards, he threaded through a mine field to take out an enemy sniper. Two days later, he and two comrades raided a German hideout and captured 11 German soldiers.
On January 14, 1944, Johnson’s actions to neutralize enemy fire allowed an early-day mission completion. Later, while under heavy mortar fire, he carried a wounded soldier to safety and administered first aid. Two days later while walking he observed three Germans behind a pile of rocks. He charged them, killing two and imprisoning one. This weakened position caused 11 more German soldiers to surrender a nearby post.
And the Army had no record of these heroic achievements.
Johnson’s surviving children still live in Sheridan County and had always known that their father, Charles Johnson, was a hero and had a Medal of Honor recommendation from 1944 to prove it. His recommendation for the Medal of Honor was not supported, but he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. One summer afternoon following a discussion with other family members about his military service, Johnson’s youngest daughter, Ranelle Kane, decided to contact the National Personnel Records Center to learn the full extent of his records and see if he had earned any additional medals during his time in service. Much to her surprise, they had no record of the Distinguished Service Cross. As Johnson had been injured during the war, the family again expected he received the Purple Heart. Yet, there was no Purple Heart on his official record.
Due to the U.S. Army’s loss of paperwork, awards for Johnson’s heroism and achievements during the war were not recorded. The Kane family, of Wolf, Wyo, decided to ask Congressional leaders for help.
After almost 10 months of digging, paperwork and discovery, Charles R. Johnson was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism reflective of the finest traditions of American Infantrymen, the Bronze Star for exemplary performance of duty, and the Purple Heart for injuries sustained in the war.
“After hearing just a few of the amazing things Charles did while serving in World War II, I honestly couldn’t believe that there wasn’t recognition,” said Enzi. “He exceeded the definition of heroism, and like all service members of yesterday and today he defended our American way of life.”
The story doesn’t end there. Ranelle Kane, Johnson’s daughter, visited Washington, D.C. in November to see family. Though she didn’t know it at the time, she would receive these humbling medals on behalf of her father.
On November 14, Ranelle, her husband Phil, daughter Katie Keeley, and son Kevin came by Senator Enzi’s D.C. office for a courtesy visit. There, Ranelle was surprised with the long overdue commemoration of her father’s actions in World War II. Enzi presented her with each medal and read aloud the citations as if it was Charles Johnson who was receiving them.
“We will never be able to thank you all enough,” said Ranelle to Enzi and his staff as they were leaving. According to Enzi, though, it is Charles Johnson and his family that we, as Americans, will never be able to thank enough.