Thursday, May 17, 2018

Beppo Rolff Johansen (1909-1946)

From the St. Petersburg Times, January 19, 1939.

  Oddly named Clearwater, Florida resident Beppo Rolff Johansen is another curiously named American diplomat I've discovered recently, and despite his length of years (he died aged 37 in 1946) was a prominent member of the foreign service, serving as U.S. Vice Consul in Yokohama, Japan, as well as in Harbin, Manchuria and Shanghai and Tientsin, China. The son of Valdemar Simon and Margrethe (Glent) Johansen, Beppo Rolff Johansen was born in Manhattan, New York on March 9, 1909. Born of Danish descent, Johansen was given the unusual name Beppo upon his birth and in the late 1920s began attending the University of Florida
   Following his graduation from that school Johansen decided upon a career in the diplomatic service, and in the mid-1930s enrolled at the Italian Diplomatic School in Florence, Italy. He passed the foreign service examination in the fall of 1934 and following the conclusion of his studies in Florence in late 1935 entered into his first diplomatic role, that of a language officer at the American Embassy in Tokyo
  By October 1937 Johansen had advanced to the post of Vice Consul and was stationed in Yokohama, Japan. His time in that post extended until February 1939, when, after a visit home to Clearwater, Florida, was appointed as Vice Consul in Harbin, Manchuria. While serving in Manchuria Johansen married to Lucy "Penny" Norton (1910-2005) in 1939, who had been born in Korea to American missionary parents. The couple would later have two children, Rolff and Karin. 
   Johansen's consulship at Harbin ended in early 1941 and in January of that year entered into the post of Third Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Peking, China. In December 1941 he saw the U.S. flag lowered at the embassy at the dawn of the war with Japan, and the Tampa  Times gives note as to his later being captured by the Japanese and held as prisoner for six months. Johansen was later freed, and after traveling to East Africa was returned stateside on the passenger ship Gripsholm in June 1942. 

Beppo Johansen returns to China, from the Foreign Service Journal, Jan. 1946.

  In September 1945 Johansen returned to diplomatic service when he and Richard Porter Butrick (1894-1997), along with other diplomatic personnel, traveled to China to begin reopening America's Asian consulates that had been freed from Japanese occupancy. With headquarters in Shanghai, the group set about reestablishing consulates in Tientsin, Hankow, Canton, Hong Kong and Tsingtao, and February 1946 Johansen saw the American flag hoisted once again over the American consulate in Peking (Peiping), China. 

From the Harrisburg Telegraph.

   In February 1946 Beppo Johansen entered into the post of Vice Consul in Tientsin, China. He continued in his duties as consul until his death in Tokyo on July 22, 1946, his cause of death being attributed to "thrombosis". Just 37 years old at the time of his passing, Johansen was memorialized by his friend and fellow diplomat Richard P. Butrick as having been "effective without being aggressive" and "unassuming without being scheming", and further related: 
"Always ready and willing to be of assistance, Beppo would frequently anticipate the wishes of the department and of his chief. Gifted with common sense far beyond the average and genuine modesty, he was respected and beloved alike by all his associates, of whatever grade. The ranks of the service may close up, but for another generation there will always be a gap where Beppo stood.
 Following his death, Johansen was interred at the U.S. Army Cemetery in Yokohama, Japan. He was survived by his wife Lucy, who, in the wake of her husband's death, entered into the diplomatic service herself, being employed as a receptionist in the office of the U.S. Political Advisor in Tokyo. She would also see service in Switzerland, Canada, and Italy, and was later a resident of both Maine and Belgium, dying in the latter country in July 2005, aged 95.


From the St. Petersburg Times, July 24, 1946.

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