Honoring & Remembering: Clay County Veterans’ Stories

Staff Sergeant Harriet Johnson Randall was a member of the WAC, Womens Army Corp.  #2.

She was born Jan. 21, 1922 in Vermillion.  Her family moved to Meckling when she was in the second grade.  She was in a class of 10 and the only girl.

Her father wouldn't let her join the military so she had to wait until she was 21. She joined the Army around Feb. 1, 1943.  Omaha was the city she had to go to for her physical.  She stretched with all her might to reach 5 feet, but because of her determination to be tall enough, they let her join.

The US Army didn't have uniforms for the women, so they had to wear the men's clothing.  It must have been quite comical to see these women with rolled up sleeves and trousers with their shoes covered with the old fashioned five-buckle overshoe. It wasn't long until she was given her uniform which consisted of a wool jacket, a wool gored skirt, rayon nylons a shirt, tie, and sturdy shoes. Her hat was made of the same material as her jacket.

Money was not excessive.  She received $21 a month, plus of course, her room and board.

After doing basic training, she took a test to be a part of the radio and Teletype group.  This was a top secret job, so she had to be investigated. When she passed, she wondered what school she would be sent to. They didn't send her to a school because the results of her test showed that she had the knowledge of a student who had finished two and a half years of college. She is proud that her education took place in the small school at Meckling.

Staff Sergeant Johnson was in the first detachment west of the Rockies; her camp was in Wilmington, right next to Long Beach, CA.  She never had KP duty because the Italian prisoners were housed there and they did all the KP duties.

Harriet's brother, Howard, was in the service at the same time. Because she was in radio and Teletype, she knew his location. Not being able to reassure her parents that Howard was OK was probably the most difficult part of her work. Even so, she enjoyed her work because she felt that she was doing something important for her country.

One of the things which always amazes me is that any former military person can rattle off their dog tag numbers as though they just received them last week. Well, Harriet is no exception. She still has her dog tags, and as I was looking at them she rattled off her number. She also said that she couldn't fault the food she ate. "Maybe that was because we didn't have much variety at our dinner table during the Depression years, that I felt fortunate for the food in the Army."

Yes, she did have a sweetheart. She met her future husband, Forrest Randal in Long Beach, CA. They were married New Year's Eve in a wedding chapel in San Diego, CA. Her Aunt Anna and Uncle Charlie were there, also. They crossed the Mexican boarder and spent a short time in Tijuana, Mexico. They found out that they weren't supposed to go over the border and were interrogated quite rigorously. Finally Aunt Anna stepped in and was able to explain why they were going over, and were given permission.

Another one of her first experiences was an earthquake. It was quite frightening for her until she found out what it was and how often it happened.

In August of 1945 she was discharged from the Army. A troop train took her to Omaha, NE, and she took another train to Sioux City, IA. When she got off the train and everyone was gone, she stood there all alone not knowing what to do. She wanted to get home to Meckling, but didn't know how to do it. She even considered walking home, but decided that was too far.

She finally saw a man working around something and went over to him. Since she had on her uniform, the man asked what she needed. When she told him she needed to go home to Meckling, he said, "Well, I'm delivering the Sioux City Journal to all the little towns going west and if you want to ride on a pile of newspapers, you are welcome to go with me."  

She hopped in the station wagon and got home at 2 a.m. She was very careful not to wake anyone when she walked in the house, but as soon as she got in her dad said, "Is that you Harriet?" And she was home.

We invite any veteran in Clay County who wants to share their story to contact Donna Schafer at 605-624-4819.

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