Leadership, valor, mentorship, vision logoMedal of Honor profile: COL Gordon Johnston

For service in the Philippines (1906)

Gordon Johnston was a cavalryman, but it was while he was detailed to the Signal Corps that he earned his Medal of Honor. Highly decorated � besides the MoH, he received the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal, three Silver Stars, Purple Heart and France�s Officer of the Legion of Honor in World War I (he won every medal authorized at the time of WWI) � he served in war theaters such as the Philippine Insurrection, Cuban Occupation, on the Mexican border and with the American Expeditionary Forces in France in WWI.

The son of Confederate GEN Robert Daniel Johnston, he graduated from Princeton University in 1896. However, he began his military service June 8, 1898, as a 24-year-old enlisted man during the Spanish-American War � as a sergeant in Company M, 2d Mississippi Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He transferred July 1, 1898, to Troop M, 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry (better known as the Rough Riders), as a private, in which unit and at which time Leonard Wood was a colonel and Theodore Roosevelt a lieutenant colonel. Both Wood and Roosevelt came to admire Johnston and were powerful friends. Johnston�s transfer to the cavalry was significant, for horsemanship and the cavalry were dominating passions with him throughout his military career.

Gordon Johnston, Princeton University alumni photo, 1896 COL Gordon Johnston, Princeton University alumni photo. (Photo courtesy of Princeton University's Department of Special Collections.)

Johnston�s enlisted time lasted through most of 1898, then he apparently returned to �civilian life� for a while in late 1898-early 1899. Roosevelt recommended that Johnston be offered a commission as a second lieutenant in 43d Infantry Regiment, which Johnston accepted in August 1899. His service took him to the Philippine Islands and the Insurrection, where in February 1900 he performed an act that years later won him the DSC.

�While in command of a small detachment of scouts,� the 1924 DSC citation read, �he displayed remarkable gallantry and leadership in charging a greatly superior force of entrenched insurgents in the face of cannon and rifle fire, driving the enemy from their position and capturing the town of Palo.�

Johnston sought and won, with Roosevelt�s support, a commission in the Regular Army. In October 1902 Johnston became a first lieutenant in the cavalry and graduated from the Army�s infantry and cavalry school as the honor graduate in 1903. However, in September 1903 he was detailed to the Signal Corps. The law provided that officer vacancies in the corps could be filled by line officers detailed for four years. Devoted to the cavalry as he was, Johnston wasn�t happy about the Signal Corps assignment, which, he said, �came without examination or application on my part.�

Johnston again went to the Philippines, this time as a Signal officer. On March 7, 1906, he distinguished himself at Mount Bud-Dajo. According to a report by 6th Infantry�s MAJ Omar Bundy, Johnston �voluntarily joined me on the trail at daybreak ... before the advance began and accompanied me to the last trench below the cotta. While waiting to complete the dispositions for the charge, he asked and obtained permission to advance to the base of the cotta. This he did under a hot fire from the Morro rifle pit to our left. He was among the first to reach the cotta. When the charge was ordered, while gallantly raising himself up to gain a foothold to climb up in advance of the others, he was severely wounded. This especially brave action ... distinguished his conduct above that of his comrades. ��

Bundy�s recommendation that Johnston be awarded the Medal of Honor was approved by the officer commanding the expedition and by the commanding general of the Philippines Division. Johnston�s Medal of Honor was issued Nov. 7, 1910. His wound at Bud-Dajo probably earned him the Purple Heart also when this award was re-established in 1932.

While on temporary duty at the German Riding Academy in Hanover in 1906 � where he had been sent before he was restored to regular duty following his injury � he asked to be released from the Signal Corps assignment. The detail was terminated in December 1906.

After he finished attending the German Riding Academy in 1907, his career was �quiet� until the United States entered WWI, then Johnston began rapidly advancing in rank. He moved from an infantry major in the National Army in August 1917 to lieutenant colonel in May 1918 (accepted June 1918) and colonel in October 1918. While Johnston was chief of staff for 82d Infantry Division in October 1918, he helped direct the unit�s Argonne-area operations; his performance here garnered him the DSM in 1919. He was again rewarded with a position of higher authority and responsibility when he became acting chief of staff for VII Army Corps.

Johnston graduated from General Staff College in June 1918, and in July 1920 became a lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army. Wood selected Johnston as a member of the Wood-Forbes Mission to the Philippines in 1921 and as assistant to the Governor General.

After Johnston returned to the United States, he graduated from the cavalry advanced course in 1925 and from the Army War College in 1926. He was promoted to colonel in the Regular Army in 1929 and retired from the Army with that rank.

Johnston died at age 60 from a polo accident March 7, 1934. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The Signal Regiment inducted Johnston as a Distinguished Member in 1998.

Camp Gordon Johnston, a 155,000-acre World War II training installation in coastal Franklin County, Fla., was named for him. The short-lived camp (1942-1946) served as an amphibious-warfare training center.

Acronym quickscan
DSC � Distinguished Service Cross
DSM � Distinguished Service Medal
MoH � Medal of Honor

dividing rule

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