Utah WWII veteran recounts his service aboard the SS American Victory ship

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DAYBREAK, Utah (ABC4 News) – A Salt Lake County man served in World War II on cargo ships. As Wednesday marks the 75th anniversary of the war’s end, he recounts his experience and his service during the war.

“That was a long, long time ago,” said 94-year-old World War II veteran Woody Johnson.

Johnson joined in war efforts at age 16. He served aboard cargo ships – the Liberty and the SS American Victory – as a merchant marine in the kitchen. He jokes the ship could not leave port without him.

“I was the dishwasher. I washed the dishes and I worked in the officer’s mess and feed the officers,” Johnson said. “They all sit around, and I dished it up and give it to them.”

Johnson followed in the footsteps of his four older brothers who were also serving their country – two were in the Navy, in the Pacific; and the other two were in the Army and fought in Normandy. Johnson served for more than a year and recalls the day his captain told them the war was over.

Woody Johnson (middle) alongside his four brothers who all served in the war.

“I was in the Philippines when the war ended,” Johnson said. “And he told us that we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

Johnson traveled the world on the cargo ships that delivered items that were needed to fight the world war.

“They delivered everything from food, ammunition, tanks, trucks, jeeps, beams, bombs, you name it,” said Thomas Procopio, an operations manager at the American Victory and Museum in Tampa, Florida.

Woody Johnson and his wife, Cheryl. Woody said he and his wife enjoyed traveling together.

Procopio said the ship was able to outrun German U-boats and get supplies and troops overseas. He said it was a key component of helping the United States win the war.

“We’re so proud to preserve this ship, preserve these memories and everything that gentleman like Mr. Johnson sacrificed when they signed up for war,” Procopio said.

Following the war’s end, Johnson moved to California and met his wife, Cheryl. They were married for 57 years and had two children together.  

Johnson went on to become a military police officer and in the last 14 years, he’s taken up the art of painting. He enjoys having his paintings on display at Sagewood at Daybreak or giving them away to those in his community.

Woody Johnson holds up some of his recent paintings at Sagewood at Daybreak.
Courtesy: Sagewood at Daybreak

As Wednesday marks the anniversary of the war’s end, and of Johnson’s service as a merchant marine, he hopes to one day visit the American Victory again in person.


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