Marrying the love of his life was a snap decision for longtime Manteca photographer Dale Johnson.
Dale and Pat met at a USO Club during World War II.
Dale, who was serving in the Navy, proposed to Pat while she was still in high school. He gave her a ring on her graduation.
Pat’s parents had asked them to wait to get married until the war ended but then the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. They decided it was time to tie the knot. They married before the second bomb fell on Nagasaki.
After the war, Dale established a photography studio in Manteca. He also was one of the key players who founded the Manteca District Ambulance — one of the handful of remaining non-profit community-based ambulance services in the state. He served for decades on the board of directors.
The Johnsons now reside at the Prestige Senior Living complex at East Louise and Empire avenues in a cozy upstairs apartment.
Dale catches photography
bug during high school
In his early high school days, Dale would eat lunch with a couple of friends including one that was very interested in photography. Dale caught the bug from him and bought a Baby Brownie Camera for 50 cents and started taking photos around school. At the end of his sophomore year, at 16, he moved with his dad and step-mother to Avenal, CA. He attended Avenal High School where he would get more involved in photography. He took pictures for the yearbook and the school newspaper.
His mother had died from an infection four days after he was born. Dale said he loved his step-mother deeply and always referred to her as his mother. He has a portrait of both moms on the wall of the office in his Manteca apartment.
Dale said his interest in photography grew deeper. He turned a bathroom in their home into a darkroom to process his school photographs after purchasing a better camera.
“I kept myself busy working at several jobs including a drive-in restaurant waiting on the customers built near the high school by one of the parents in the town of only 1,000 residents,” he said.
He said his dad didn’t appreciate his interest in photography which he related to a street photographer walking around town with a pony and a camera. He saw little future in a photography career, Dale said.
“I wanted to buy a 2 ¼ X 3 ¼ Speed Graphic which was the recognized news camera of the day for about $300. Dad said that if I could spend that much for a camera that I could certainly buy a car and I couldn’t continue to use his car,” Dale recalled.
After graduation he entered an extension of Fresno State College in Coalinga.
Joins the Navy after
attack on Pearl Harbor
In 1941 the U.S. went to war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor when he had only finished one year of college. Dale joined the Navy. Boot camp was at Port Townsend in Washington State.
Up to the age of 8 he would suffer from headaches and periods of throwing up, noting that his father thought he was faking to stay home from school but his mother thought otherwise. In the Navy boot camp, he had reoccurrences of the symptoms and was sent to sick call where it was decided he was having migraine headaches which they didn’t seem to know how to treat them to give him relief.
The medical staff offered him a medical discharge from the service, but he declined saying he wanted to stay in the Navy. While confined in a Navy hospital for observation, he was able to get involved with the staff in the X-ray department and was asked to process the films.
“When I went back to boot camp, the hospital staff had written a letter to my commander recommending that I be placed in a photography assignment,” Dale said.
He was put aboard the General William M. Black AP 135 troop ship that carried some 5,000 soldiers and a crew of 500 sailors. Dale was the photographer at the commissioning of that brand-new ship. By the time he became a Seaman First Class he was earning a whopping $50 a month, he noted.
The ship sailed 125,000 miles while he was on board until the end of the war when he was transferred from New York to San Francisco where he would meet his future wife Pat at a USO Club where she had gone to entertain the troops on leave.
Dale said the passengers on his ship had to stand up to eat their two meals a day while the crew was seated for their three daily meals. Two of their early trips were in the Pacific Ocean coming back through the Panama Canal and onto Kingston, Jamaica where they picked up a full load of nationals, bringing them back to the U.S. to work in the factories for the war effort.
The ship made nine round trips to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean in a convoy with other troop ships that carried soldiers to and from the military action abroad. He said they only had five-inch guns but never engaged in battle and never had to use those guns.
He had been assigned the duty of providing “Hometown News” aboard ship in photographs that he took of sailors working at their duty stations. Those pictures would be sent to a headquarters center where they would be disseminated to the newspapers in the crew members’ hometowns to keep their families and communities aware of their activities during the war.
When his ship returned to the East Coast for refitting, he was transferred to the San Francisco Bay Area where he continued to get his hazardous duty pay.
“Pat’s family had moved to Oakland and I had a pretty light duty status at my new duty station,” he recalled. “Pat and I connected right away and that’s when we promised her folks that we wouldn’t get married until the end of the war. Truman was president at the time and we went to Pat’s folks and told them we would like to get married and they didn’t like that at all. It was few days later when the bombs were dropped in Japan that we were finally married.”
Living in Santa Rosa
they decided to move
to one of three smaller
Manteca on that list
After Dale got his discharge, the newly married couple moved to Santa Rosa where he had already spotted a location to open a photography studio on Santa Rosa Avenue on the outskirts of town. It was in a house where they put the studio in the front and lived in the back. “Bud,” their first child, was born 18 months after they were married with the given name of Martin, followed by Patty and Richard.
“With a G.I Loan we are able to soon get a house in Santa Rosa and Patty was born two years later. Business was good and I really didn’t realize how good it was,” Dale said later. “But we wanted to move to a smaller community with smaller schools where I could become a part of the community and raise our children in a safe environment.”
“We chose three areas to consider and visited each including the last, Manteca – that was going to be our new home,” he said.
“We bought a working studio on West Yosemite Avenue in the downtown that was owned by photographer Dan Lowery who also had a small camera shop in his business. We sold our house in Santa Rosa and moved to Manteca. We lived in the back of the studio with the kids for a short time and then lived in government housing that was primarily provided for returning veterans. When we came to Manteca it had 3,800 residents and four or five doctors and no hospital,” he recalled.
Dale was concerned that when someone needed an ambulance there was one that came from the County Hospital in French Camp and another from Stockton, noting that they were kept very busy. Anyone being involved in a horrific traffic accident would often have to wait at the scene for an hour for an ambulance to arrive, he said.
“I joined the Manteca Junior Chamber of Commerce when we came to town and proposed a plan to get an ambulance into town and they named me chairman of an ambulance committee effort. It took us a year to put the plan together and my friend Dave Vest was instrumental in helping the cause,” he said.
Family members for
sold for $3 per family
It was determined that the community would buy an ambulance in 1952 and it would be operated by volunteers. The entire community got together and sold family ambulance memberships for $3 at downtown corner booths that would provide one free ride in the ambulance to a hospital and additional $3 for any ride after that.
“All we were trying to do was to pay for operating the ambulance – not a penny for labor,” he said. “Some $3,500 was donated by the citizens of Manteca toward the purchase. To get the word out we borrowed an ambulance from the Southern California manufacturer and put that ambulance in a Manteca Sportsmen’s Parade with a sign on the back, ‘Yours if You Want it!’”
That program was a success. A year later the community bought their first ambulance, he remembered. It was a converted Chevrolet panel truck set up as an ambulance by the manufacturer who traveled to Manteca to finish the project.
“We had 100 per cent cooperation from the Manteca Bulletin and weekly updates and comments to keep the movement alive and in front of the public,” Dale said.
That was the beginning of Dale’s community involvement that took him to the chairmanship of the Manteca Planning Commission for several years and the planning and construction of the 80-home gated Camellia Gardens on East Yosemite Avenue east of Highway 99.
For nearly 50 years Jonson would capture weddings, family portraits and other celebrations on film through his photography studio that he had moved to the 300 block of East Yosemite Avenue from the first downtown location.
He served on the Manteca District Ambulance Board of Directors for more than 40 years and had a conference room at the ambulance hindquarters named in his honor. He had also served as the coordinator of the Manteca Community Blood Drive for almost a decade and had taken a hands-on approach to his involvement at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. He has been in charge of maintenance and building projects at the Manteca Historical Society Museum and had also served on the Manteca Chamber of Commerce board and on other numerous business and cultural boards.
Johnson also has been inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame.
Not only did Pat support Dale in his community service but she was active as well on her own helping improve Manteca as a member of the Manteca Soroptimists.
To contact Glenn Kahl, email email@example.com.