Minneota man escaped Japanese hunt in WWII

A Minneota man escaped with his life in 1944 on Leyte Island, despite an extensive hunt for him by the Japanese. The story of Stephen S. Johnson appeared in the Chicago Herald and was re-printed in the Minneota Mascot.

The son of Mr. and Mrs. John E. Johnson and brother of Mrs.Floyd Roberts of Arco and Mrs. Earl Roberts, he was raised in Minneota. Johnson was called a “technical expert” in disseminating news through the Office of War Information to the eight million Filipinos. He’d been employed by the Chicago and North Western Railroad for 17 years.

He began his radio career in the first world war and had kept close touch on the developments of the radio operation through the years. At the University of Chicago, he was an assistant chief of the radio code instruction for the navy training school unit. He was called on to again serve and wound up in Leyte. Johnson held down an “attic” transmission station that the Japanese wanted to uncover and destroy. “They used all kinds of radio tricks to jam his transmissions and incidentally interfere with his reception,” said the Chicago Herald.

“Jap bombers roared over his head, but as a rule, they were in a hurry to escape the US interceptors, who were on constant patrol.” Johnson apparently, “Look out the window,” of his transmission station and saw a plane with big red spots under each wing and it was “skeedaddling it for the hills.” It was being chased by American planes. Johnson “wondered why the fighter didn’t close in and make the kill. But eventually the Americans came down from the sky and shot at the Japanese plane. It exploded in a ball of fire,” Johnson recalled. It crashed into the side of a hill.

According to the Chicago Herald report, “Steve not only sends out the news of the world by air, but he receives it the same way. He never lost his enthusiastic zest for his job.” The paper added, “Johnson had the finest equipment science could produce.” With his radio “ears” he tuned in Tokyo, Moscow, Calcutta, Paris, London, New York, Chicago and the Pacific coast. “Sometimes the Japanese tried to cut into his tuning frequency with peculiar sounds.

One of them was a snare-drum or heterodyne whistles and shriek. But he turned the knob and just laughed as he went to a different frequency.” Johnson also had a typewriter so he could write down communiques that came over his radio.

“He snares interesting items and takes it down as it comes. Blackouts don’t bother him. He can hear just as well in the dark and has a night system of his own.” Johnson was married to wife Ruth and they had a 16-year-old daughter at the time. Johnson’s ability to keep communications coming was a valuable resource for the Filipino people as well as the American military. “It limited false reports and propaganda broadcast by the Japanese in Manila.”

Johnson apparently returned to his home after the war.

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