WWII Veterans Remembered: U-Haul Honors Michigan’s Aubrey K. Johnson

Jun 20, 2020

Pacific Theater veteran and Benton Harbor native Aubrey Johnson will be memorialized in the lobby of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower at Pearl Harbor

U-Haul® was born as World War II was coming to a close, with its first one-way trailers made available to the moving public on or about July 4, 1945.

Just as U-Haul is celebrating 75 years of service this year, America will soon celebrate the 75th anniversary of V-J Day. This signifies Victory over Japan and is observed Sept. 2 when the signing of surrender occurred, effectively ending WWII.

Aubrey Johnson, WWII Staff Sergeant, circa 1945

Veterans such as Benton Harbor native Aubrey K. Johnson returned home to start a new life after the war, and in doing so planted the seeds of prosperity for U-Haul, a product of the peace for which they fought.

WWII-era Navy veteran L.S. “Sam” Shoen and his wife, Anna Mary Carty Shoen, conceived U-Haul in June 1945 when they recognized a basic need while moving up the West Coast, having left behind most of their belongings since one-way trailer rentals did not yet exist. From that idea, an industry was created and a new level of mobility became attainable for every American family.

New Display at Pearl Harbor

Today, U-Haul is committed to honoring veterans and supporting veteran causes. This is accomplished through recruiting veterans and giving them hiring preference; direct assistance to veteran groups; participation and sponsorship of Memorial Day and Veterans Day parades; and supporting Pearl Harbor tributes.

The Company’s 75th anniversary tributes will peak triumphantly with the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum’s dedication of the renovated Ford Island Control Tower on Aug. 29. U-Haul Pacific Theater veterans’ bios and photos will be displayed in the tower lobby. Johnson will be among those memorialized on the lobby wall.

The tower will showcase a new elevator, gifted by U-Haul CEO Joe Shoen, providing public access to the observation deck where America’s lone WWII aviation battlefield can be revered and our heroes remembered.

Willing to Serve

Johnson was born in Benton Harbor in 1922. After he graduated from Benton Harbor High School, he enrolled at Michigan State University. Just two months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Aubrey postponed his studies and enlisted in the Army.

Johnson served in the South Pacific with the First Calvary Division and saw action in New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands Campaign in 1944, and served in General Douglas MacArthur’s campaign to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control.

Following the surrender of Japan, the division was assigned to occupation duty in Japan. Johnson drove the first American tank into Tokyo on Sept. 8. He was also featured in a three-way radio broadcast on Oct. 9 between Tokyo, Berlin and Hollywood. TSgt. Johnson, speaking from Tokyo Rose’s old studio, and Pvt. Sidney Aronson in Berlin were interviewed about their wartime experiences on “Everything for the Boys” hosted by Dick Hymnes. Johnson was honorably discharged in December 1945.

Following the war, Johnson resumed his studies at MSU, graduating with honors with a degree in agricultural economics. In October 1948, he began a 30-year career in the Federal Land Bank System and the Farm Credit System. He rose through the ranks from regional manager to executive vice president of the Federal Land Bank System; to deputy governor for the Farm Credit Administration in Washington, D.C.; to CEO of the Federal Farm Credit Banks Funding Corporation in New York City.

Guiding Light to U-Haul

Aubrey Johnson, circa 1989

In 1978, Johnson retired and moved to Sun City West, Ariz. In 1985, he answered an ad for an AMERCO® Board of Directors position. The parent company of U-Haul wisely appointed him to the position. Johnson’s invaluable business and financial experience helped U-Haul through a leadership transition and the restructuring of its business operations. Johnson retired from the AMERCO Board in 1998.

“Aubrey was a terrific friend of U-Haul and a person who was both modest and courageous,” Joe Shoen stated. “As a WWII veteran and banking executive, Aubrey had a wealth of leadership experience and knowledge. He served on the board of directors during difficult times, and he never faltered. He approached every challenge as an opportunity to help people.”

Johnson passed away on Feb. 8, 2018. He is survived by his sons Brian (Donna) and Terry (Dianne), four grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Veteran Ties and Appreciation

The Shoens started U-Haul upon Sam’s discharge with $4,000 of accumulated Navy pay and the courage formed by the cauldron of WWII. With the help of other veterans, the young couple forged their new enterprise from the freedom that victory produced.

Today, U-Haul serves all 50 states and 10 Canadian provinces, helping millions of families move every year. Johnson is one of the many veterans who laid the foundation for the present prosperity U-Haul enjoys.

U-Haul is one of a myriad of companies built by these incredible veterans, who are to be saluted and remembered during this 75th anniversary celebration. Thank you, Aubrey.

Find more veteran tributes in the History and Culture section of myuhaulstory.com.

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