Colonel Wait Chatterton Johnson

In the entire scope of the Inter-Allied Games, there is probably no person as instrumental to their success than Colonel Wait C. Johnson, of the United States. Born on March 24, 1877 in Vermont, Johnson was a career military man. He graduated from the University of Vermont, and spent virtually all of his life in the military. Johnson was deployed multiple times; on US soil, twice in the Philippines, and of course in France to fight for the United States in the first world war. At the time of the armistice, Johnson was reassigned to the intelligence division at the American Expeditionary Force Headquarters in Chaumont, France. This position wouldn’t last for long, however, as the roots of the Inter-Allied Games began to sprout, and Johnson found his new calling.

Johnson was described as “an expert in athletic matters and in his own person an athlete of wide Army repute” so it only seemed fitting that the Colonel be involved with the Inter-Allied Games. Colonel Johnson proposed that there needed to be something to keep the soldiers occupied and engaged in the time after the war, while they waited to be returned home. The natural answer to Johnson was sport. On December 1, 1918, Johnson was appointed by General Pershing as the Chief Athletic Officer of the AEF. His new position called for him to organize, officiate, and oversee the Inter-Allied Games in their entirety, and to lead the AEF team. As soon as Johnson received his new assignment, he was in close contact with the Director of Athletics of the Y.M.C.A, the other party that made the games possible. Together they devised the rules, conditions, and venues of the games, and invited the other allied armies to come compete.

four men
Col. Wait Chatterton Johnson (far left) at the inauguration of the Inter-Allied Games. Image: gallica.bnf.fr

As the games approached, the Inter-Allied Games committee was established, with Johnson at the helm, to further administer and oversee the games as a whole. The committee consisted of Johnson, another AEF official, and two representatives from the Y.M.C.A. Once the games were on, Colonel Johnson was involved all over the competitions. As chairmen of the games committee, and chief athletic officer of the AEF, Johnson personally wrote the rules for most of the competitions, acted as referee for a handful of them, and actually competed in a couple as well. Without a doubt, he was the man most involved with the Inter-Allied Games in the world.

Man Saluting
Johnson becomes an officer of the Legion of Honor. Image: gallica.bnf.fr

Colonel Wait Johnson’s astounding devotion to athletics was admired and respected by many. He was seen as a role model for young soldiers and athletes participating in the games, and they enjoyed his “democratic” way of running things. He had a profound understanding of human nature, and constantly advocated for good sportsmanship. He understood that referees and officials were only human, and that close calls had to be made in certain competitions, and he tried to relay this to his troops. After the games were concluded, Johnson was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French government, and the Distinguished Service Medal by General Pershing himself, two of the highest orders of merit in France and the United States, respectively. Colonel Johnson died in his home state of Vermont on August 2, 1937, but will always be proudly remembered as a devoted Army colonel and athlete, the human embodiment of American leadership in athletics.

 

Sources

Johnson, Wait Chatterton, Elwood S. Brown, James Newton Colver, and William Unmack. Official Athletic Almanac of the American Expeditionary Forces, 1919. New York: American Sports Pub., 1919.

Terret, Thierry. “The Military “Olympics” of 1919.” Journal of Olympic History 14(2006): n. pag. Aug. 2006. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

Wythe, George, and Joseph Mills Hanson. The Inter-Allied Games. Paris: Inter-Allied Games Committee, 1919.

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