Former Eisenhower Secretary Looks Back On Memorial Day


GAINESVILLE, Ga. - Gainesville honored a special person as part of its Memorial Day celebration.

Fran Johnson, 87, served as secretary to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower just weeks after Germany surrendered during World War II.

To most at Gainesville's Memorial Day parade, World War II stories are lessons learned in school or at the knee of parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents.

But to Johnson, who rode in Gainesville's parade Monday, the memories are personal.

Johnson, then Fran Smith, was in high school when Pearl Harbor was attacked. She remembers, "It came over the airwaves and immediately the whole country went into alert. Immediately people signed up."

But at 16, she was too young. "There I was ... stuck in high school and my war was getting ahead of me," said Johnson.

She watched and waited four years. As the war wound down, her parents allowed her to sign up for the Women's Army Corps. After months of training, she was sent to Europe. By that time, the war was over.

Within minutes of landing, she learned she would serve as one of several secretaries to Eisenhower in Frankfurt, Germany just weeks after V-E day.

"I'm 20-years-old shaking in my GI boots," said Johnson.

Channel 2's Diana Davis asked Johnson if she realized that she was about to become part of history.

"I didn't. I was too dumb I guess. I didn't," laughed Johnson. "I just didn't. I had a job to do and I did it," she added.

Still in shock, she said Eisenhower put her at ease.

"I was absolutely entranced with the kindness and the fatherliness. He was just an incredibly easy person to talk to and I felt like I had known him for years," remembered Johnson.

Her acquaintance with Eisenhower continued until his death in 1969. She worked for Eisenhower back at the Pentagon when he served as chief of staff of the army. He was a guest at her wedding. She was there for his inauguration as president in 1953. Davis asked Johnson if life since the wars years pales by comparison.

"Six children ... dull" laughed Johnson.

She said she's passed her war stories on to to her children and grandchildren, and to kids she speaks to in school assemblies. She hopes they will never forget.