"It's not propaganda," Johnson replied. "It's for the families."

Johnson's List, January 1997 Readers' Digest Issue

--by Malcolm McConnell, Readers' Digest

PFC. Johnnie Johnson, from Lima, Ohio, was just 18 when his division, the 24th Infantry, was thrown into combat in the summer of 1950. Their mission: to slow the communist invasion of South Korea.

On July 11, 1950, Johnson was captured. A few nights later American planes accidentally strafed a building where he and other POWs were being held. Several men were killed. Somebody might forget these guys, Johnnie thought. But their families have the right to know where and when they died. Using a pencil stub, he wrote on a scrap of paper their names, units and date of death. By late October, most of Johnson's POW group were sick and malnourished; 70 were already dead, including seven executed. Johnson listed each name on bits of discarded cigarette packages and a strip of wallpaper.

Then a brutal North Korean army major the prisoners called "The Tiger" took command of the 758 dejected POWs. During a 120-mile march across snowy mountain terrain, Johnson managed to jot down the names of over 100 men who died en route.

That winter, in a camp on the ice-choked Yalu River, almost 300 more prisoners died. Johnson added their names to his secret list.

In October 1951 after being transferred to Chinese control, Johnson made two identical lists and hid one in the mud-hut wall, the other in the dirt floor. When guards discovered the list in the wall, the commandant beat Johnson, accusing him of maintaining "criminal propaganda" for his government.

"It's not propaganda," Johnson replied. "It's for the families."

Above: American POWs from the 24th Infantry captured in Korea, July 1950.
In the background, parts of Johnson's list.

In August 1953, the 262 Tiger survivors were ordered to prepare for repatriation. Johnnie dug up his list and sealed it inside a toothpaste tube. Not until he was safely on a troopship home did he bring it out.

"What have you got there?" an officer asked.

"It's my list, sir," Johnnie explained. The officer held up the thin sheets crammed with tight columns. There were 496 names.

A lieutenant made a note of it in Johnnie's debriefing report. But as America tried to forget the tragedy of Korea, the record of Johnson's list slipped into bureaucratic oblivion.

On the next page, 40 years later, published for the first time for families and friends of America's lost heroes, is the list.

Read more about Johnson's courage and compassion in the 1997 January issue of Reader's Digest.

For reprints of the complete article, call 1-800-289-6457.

The Tiger Survivors List

Dozens of people have contacted Reader's Digest Interactive about "Johnson's List." We'd like to thank everyone for their interest, especially those of you who noted that because of this article, you were able to find out the true fate of a relative or loved one.

For more information about the Tiger Survivors, you can write:

Tiger Survivors
Shorty R. Estabrook
24922 Muirlands Sp. 46
Lake Forest, CA 92630

"What Happened to the Tiger ?"

Many people have asked this question. Unfortunately, no one knows his true fate. Sources suggest several scenarios. Was The Tiger sentenced to prison ? Was he captured, convicted and executed ? Or was The Tiger released from his command, only to disappear forever ? No one knows. Moreover, military sources say that it would be almost impossible to track down The Tiger's whereabouts.

Thank you for your continued participation in "Join the Debate."

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