The Library of Congress Veterans History Project Home 
Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project
Home » Clara C. Johnson

"I was always impressed with my female colleagues in that I was the only person of color and they were readily accepting of me." (Audio Interview, 4:08)

   Clara C. Johnson
Collection image
Major Clara Johnson, Vietnam [1969]
War: Cold War; Vietnam War, 1961-1975
Branch: Air Force
Service Location: Lackland Air Force Base and Brooks Field, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Sealand, Wales; Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Griffiss AFB, New York; also: Vietnam
Rank: Major
View Full Description

In 1950, Clara “Chris” Johnson was a theatrical designer with limited prospects when she decided that the Air Force would provide her with a steady income. Her initial impression of her female colleagues confirmed that she was going to be judged solely on her abilities and not on the color of her skin. She survived a rigorous stint at Officers Candidate School and a year in Vietnam, and got to retire at an age young enough to have a second career in academia.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
»Complete Interview 
Download: audio (72 min.)
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
 Official Documents
»Special Order TA-228
More like this
»Women of Four Wars
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
Joining the service for economic opportunity; the Air Force took her because she had attended college and already had skills that could be developed; her early days; feeling acceptance from her original training colleagues. (03:09) Competing with the male training squads; encouraged by their officers; the only way to survive in the Air Force was to be competitive. (01:11) After using her skills as a set designer to work on floats for military parades, she decided to apply for Officer Candidate School; began in November 1953; extremely rigorous, with only three women in the class, all of whom survived; missing her midterms because of her father's funeral; being drilled when she returned and passing the test. (04:54)
Going to Vietnam in 1968, stationed at Ton Son Nhut; assigned to 377th Combat Support Group as a management and procedures officer; controlling inventory for the 100,000 supply items on base; she was also WAF advisor for the enlisted women on base; learning about Vietnamese culture; finding baby girls thrown away by their families and taking them to orphanages; delivering confiscated rice to the orphanage. (06:23) Extending courtesies to the base’s security police paid off; when she shipped out they gave her a nice send-off. (03:12) Taking a job at Hamilton College; she wanted to work with young people and turned down a job in business to stay there; adopting a child who was misdiagnosed as retarded; initiating a legal fight against a restaurant with a racially offensive name. (08:16)

Home » Clara C. Johnson
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us