“CALIFORNIA’S OLDEST RESIDENT AND LAST WORLD WAR I VETERAN PASSES ON”
September 1, 2006; Richmond, CA -- George H. Johnson, California’s oldest documented resident and the state’s last known surviving World War I veteran passed away on August 30th at his longtime residence in Richmond after a brief illness. He was 112. Pvt. George Johnson served in World War I for a short period and was in training for deployment overseas when the war ended in 1918. At the time of his death George was ranked 19th on the list of documented Supercentenarians around the world.
George was born in Philadelphia, PA on May 1, 1894 into a family with eight children. In his early youth homes had no electricity and there were no automobiles. George’s Father was of English and African descent and his mother was of Scandinavian ancestry. His father worked in the railroad industry and was in charge of train departure and arrival announcement at he main railroad station in Philadelphia. During one visit to his father’s office George met Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller. His mother served as a nurse for the Red Cross throughout World War I. During his youth George enjoyed watching baseball games through fence holes and recalls the city was heavily industrialized and there were neighborhood grocery stores nearby. At the time George was drafted into the Army in August of 1918, he was a newlywed working for the U.S Post Office. His military training was done at Camp Green, NC and Fort Dix, NJ. The large barracks where troops were housed had big potbellied stoves in the middle to provide heat. He recalls serving with the 14th Company of the 154th Battalion. He was mustered out of the Army before the end of 1918.
After World War I George went back to work for the Post Office but soon was convinced by his wife Ida Delaney Johnson to move to California to follow her parents. George and Ida first settled in the Fresno area in 1919 and later moved to the San Francisco East Bay area around 1935. They purchased property in an unincorporated area near the then small city of Richmond. Over a period of time George and Ida built a beautiful three-story home during their spare time, which today has a commanding view of both the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge. George and Ida had no children, and the home was their primary residence until each of their deaths. Neighborhood children frequently gathered there to be entertained by the Johnsons. During World War II George worked at the Kaiser shipyards outfitting cargo vessels. After the war he was employed at the Engineering Department of the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, CA for a long career. At the time of his retirement he was managing the heating plant at the hospital.
During a visit by the undersigned with George Johnson on the occasion of his 111th birthday, George related an amazing adventure story aboard an Argentine battleship just completed in a US Naval shipyard. It appears George was inadvertently left aboard the newly completed battleship “Mariano Moreno” while visiting the vessel on its day of departure. When discovered it was too late and expensive to return to the dock so he ended up traveling on the vessel for several weeks and was given various jobs on the crew before disembarking at a naval base in southern Argentina. He recalls a stop at the island of Barbados for a coal re-supply and the many laborers transferring coal sacks from a barge to the battleship’s coal bins. During a severe storm a ships officer took him atop one of the high lookouts and he was able to see the ships bow cutting through large waves and the water splashing over the forward gun turrets. George was given some spending money to get up to Buenos Aires, the Argentine capital and there spent considerable time at the docks looking for a ride back to the United States. It took George about three years and various round-trip voyages to England and back to Argentina as a cook’s assistant, before he was able to get back to his hometown in Philadelphia via Boston. Wartime shipping opportunities were quite limited. [Editor’s Note: The undersigned lived in Argentina for 14 years during his youth, and has verified that the Argentine government received delivery of the Battleship “Mariano Moreno” in 1915 from the New York/Philadelphia shipyards.]
George’s wife Ida passed away in 1992 and he continued to live on alone reasonably well. He lost his eyesight at age 106, but that was only a temporary setback in his ability to get along. He was so knowledgeable of his home’s layout that he would move around with his walker at leisure as long as things were left where he was familiar with them. Quite often he would prepare his own meals when his part time caregiver could not make them.
George enjoyed listening to baseball games until his last days and was probably the San Francisco Giants oldest fan. George Johnson’s extended family includes his Great Grand Nephews Brian and Rick Johnson, and Great Grand Nieces Karen Bitz and Cheryl Auble. A private memorial service will be held on Thursday, September 7th in El Cerrito, CA. Memorial gifts may be sent to a local hospice or Meals on Wheels organization.
Very truly yours,
Robert W. Johnson, Lt Col, USAF (Ret), Adjutant
Department of California Veterans of World War I of the USA
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