BORN IN FLEMING, Colorado, and raised in Clearmont, Wyoming, Harry Manfred Johnson was employed as a railroad timekeeper when he registered for the draft in June 1917. He had started work for the railroad as a teenager, working as a callboy while still in school.
Inducted into the army in May 1918, Johnson served as a private with both the 12th and 31st infantries. It was while serving with the latter that Johnson found himself passing through Japan on his way to Vladivostok. Over 1,400 members of the 31st Infantry were sent to eastern Siberia as part of President Woodrow Wilson's attempt to intervene in Russia's Bolshevik Revolution and thus protect American and European interests in the area.
Written in late September 1918, Johnson's letter describing his stay in Japan was published in The Sheridan Enterprise on November 13, 1918.
After the war, Johnson returned to Sheridan, where he died in 1965 after working for Sheridan County Electric for many years.
I thought I’d write a few lines today so I can mail it when we get a chance. It’s getting pretty tiresome being on the transport so long. Expect it will be several days yet before we get to our destination. We stopped at a post, Hakadati, Japan, last Sunday, and we were all allowed to go to shore. Couldn’t get the transport to the docks, so we took small Jap boats and went to town. Gee! Things here look awful odd and funny. Also the people. They wear very little clothing and wear a kind of robe like the men and walk on stilt-like things for shoes. Don’t see hardly how they get along with them, and no one can enter a house unless they take their shoes off and put on a sort of a slipper. The women work just like men and carry their babies on their backs like Indians.
The streets are very narrow and no pavement, and all the traffic goes on the left side. The street cars are much smaller than the ones at home and no sidewalks, and all the building are so small - nearly all are one or two-story frame buildings. We had much fun in getting what we wanted and making change in Jap money. Many of the soldiers got jagged so the could hardly walk. Beer and whiskey we all could buy, but getting what we wanted to eat was rather a hard job. The girls, especially if they would see a gold ring on your finger, you could hardly get away from them. I sure had a hell of a time and there’s so much that I can’t write you in a letter. They also are such beggars. The girls, all of the ones I saw in the stores, were after a guy to buy beer, and, believe me, they can sure drink, too. Saw lots of the girls that looked pretty nice and were dressed nice too. I tried my best to get my picture taken in one of those carts with a Jap pulling it. Ha, I’d sure give lots for one, but I couldn’t find any one that had a Kodak nor a photographer either on the streets.
I never saw a single wagon. Nothing but carts, and very few of them, and they were drawn by men or a single horse. Seems as though they are centuries behind us people, and their sanitary conditions are very, very poor. I sure thought the Japanese people were much farther advanced than they are, but I expect it is better when you get farther inland. All along the coast where we have been, the land has been very rough.
September 28, 1918 - Will start and write a little more. We are to land this afternoon, so am going to try and get this letter mailed so it can go back on this boat. We stopped at Otarii, Japan, four days, and took on some coal, but they couldn’t let us go to town, account of lots of the boys used too much drinks and gave quite a bit of trouble. Am sure glad we are to land so we can get off this boat. About all I’ve seen since we left San Francisco has been water, until we got to Japan. If you happen to see the Jap foreman at the [railroad] shops, tell him that I was in Hakadati and Otarii, Japan.
(From "In the World War")
State Historic Site