Army special operations leaders presented a Special Forces tab and the iconic green beret Friday morning to a man believed to be the last living member of their World War II Office of Strategic Services’ Operations Group predecessors, known as OGs.
Technician 4th Grade Ellsworth “Al” Johnson, now 100, was a medic who parachuted into France and China with the OGs. The ceremony took place in Zeeland, Michigan, where Johnson resides today in a nursing home. Army Special Operations Command’s deputy commander, Maj. Gen. Patrick Roberson, and 1st Special Forces Command leader Brig. Gen. Gil Ferguson presented the tab and beret.
“He laid the groundwork for what we are today,” Roberson said during the ceremony, which the veteran’s family attended. “Everything that he did in 1944 — we model ourselves on in our training and the operations that we conduct. [It’s our] origin story.”
Each OSS OG was roughly 34 soldiers — a four-man command element and two 15-soldier sections that could operate independently. These groups provided a blueprint for future units, according to historical research by Army special operations officials, who noted that today’s Special Forces A-teams resemble the WWII-era OG sections.
According to a personal memoir, Johnson was drafted into the Army as a medic. That disappointed him, although he received valuable surgical training, so he volunteered for the OSS to avoid being “a bed-pan jockey,” he said.
On Johnson’s first mission, his unit, OG Patrick, successfully captured a dam in Central France after jumping behind German lines in August 1944, according to historical reports. They achieved this by linking up with the French Resistance and successfully convincing the dam’s German garrison to abandon its post.
After his unit’s success in France, Johnson and many of his peers volunteered to jump into China in July 1945 with Chinese paratroopers of the 2nd Chinese Commando that they’d trained. They led an assault on a Japanese garrison that inflicted significant casualties on the enemy but failed to take the town. A medical history report said Johnson successfully stabilized and evacuated wounded troops, including two Americans, while waiting for a doctor to arrive.
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Johnson and his fellow OSS troops made their way out of Asia and back to America, where he was discharged from the service. He went on to have a successful career in the cosmetics industry, according to an Army report.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.