By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Woman recalls time as Eisenhower secretary
North Hall resident joined the Women's Army Corps in 1944
0530Johnson3
Women’s Army Corps secretarial staff from left: Margaret Chick, Frances Smith, Nana Rae and Sue Sarafian work inside Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s office in Frankfurt, Germany in 1945.

Memorial Day events

Parade

When: 10 a.m. today
Where: Green Street from First Baptist Church to E.E. Butler Parkway, then to Spring Street
Noteworthy: Beginning at about 9 a.m., roads in downtown Gainesville will be closed, including E.E. Butler Parkway and many of its side streets.

Hall County Sheriff's Office celebration

What: Honor Guard marches for a 24-hour period beginning at 12:01 a.m. today, service held 11 a.m. today
When: 11 a.m. today
Where: Veterans Section of Memorial Park Cemetery

The war had passed her by, but a young Frances Smith got to spend the months following World War II working for one of the most prominent military figures in the world — Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

As a member of the Women's Army Corps, she worked with three other secretaries in his office from June 1945, when Eisenhower was in Germany, until her discharge in May 1946, when her boss was Army chief of staff at the Pentagon in Washington.

The now 87-year-old Fran Johnson, who will ride in today's Memorial Day parade in Gainesville as a guest of the Northeast Georgia History Center, talked Sunday about those days, recounting several fine details, down to the layout of offices at Eisenhower's Frankfurt headquarters.

Memories of working for Eisenhower — who had directed the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944 — are still fresh.

"It was the easiest thing in the whole world and the most enjoyable," said Johnson in an interview at her home in North Hall.

"For a man with his accomplishments, he didn't have a conceited bone in his body. He was the same to everybody and he brought people together."

Johnson said she believes the war was won because Eisenhower "was able to make peace among all these various countries."

Eisenhower, who served as U.S. president from 1953-61 and died in March 1969, also had a knack for dealing with obstinate military leaders, including Gen. George S. Patton, whose face graces an autographed photo in Johnson's memorabilia.

The two were friends, even though Eisenhower had to reprimand Patton over an incident in which he slapped a soldier.

Patton died while Eisenhower was at the Pentagon. Johnson recalled getting a phone call with the news from Patton's son, George Jr.

Johnson had to relay the message.

"That was the hardest thing I ever had to do," she said.

Johnson hadn't imagined being so close to such history when she entered the Women's Army Corps in September 1944.

She grew up in New York, spending the last two years of high school in St. Petersburg, Fla. A couple of her friends wanted to join the Army, but they wanted for Johnson to graduate.

After high school, Johnson worked for a short while with McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. in New York City.

"My father was very disappointed when I said I wanted to go in the service," Johnson recalled.

He relented, however, giving permission so his 20-year-old daughter could enlist.

Johnson said she was disappointed the war was over by the time she arrived in Germany in the spring of 1945.

"The war threatened our shores," Johnson said, explaining her emotions. "... Our land was attacked, our ships were attacked and our people were killed in Pearl Harbor. If they did that damage ... they could keep going and do more.

"And Hitler was raising all kinds of bad things over in Europe and it wouldn't be long before they were over on our shores."

After World War II, Johnson got married and raised six children.

She later did volunteer and social work around Washington, D.C., where she also worked as director of development, public relations and alumni affairs at St. Albans School.

Johnson moved to Florida, working for a school there and later retiring.

In weighing her future, she decided to move to the Hall County area to be near a lifelong friend who had settled in Dahlonega. The friend later moved to Lanier Village Estates in North Hall and Johnson eventually followed.

Johnson, a widow by this time, then met John Hunt, and the two have been married for five years.

Reflecting over her life, Memorial Day stirs thoughts of being back in Europe and working for Eisenhower in the months following World War II.

"It was a wonderful moment on the stage, a small amount of time that looms large in the memory," she said.

 

Friends to Follow social media