Boris Ivanovitch Ignatieff was born December 4, 1874 to a prominent Don Cossack family. A brother became Governor-General of Irkutsk Province after high rank in the Imperial Army.
Boris “fought for half a dozen Balkan governments before he was 30, was in one army after another almost continuously. Was cited for bravery and decorated 12 times in 10 years, and only left the Balkans when, for the moment, there was peace there.” (Montana Standard, December 8, 1929)
At 17, he saved his Russian commander’s life under fire from the Turkish army. His criticism of the Russian regime led to his exile when he was 20.
“Went to South America. And for several years was a real ‘soldier of fortune,’ fighting with different armies. But always for what he considered to be the right; was in numerous engagements, great and small, and was again decorated.”
“Tried living in peace in the United States for a time, but could not stand the monotony. Enlisted and fought in the Spanish-American War.” (Montana Standard, December 8, 1929)
He became a US citizen and took the name Sam Johnson. Johnson had no use whatever for “anything humdrum” and would do almost anything to get into the thick of things.
He made way to Honolulu in 1893 via the merchant marine and service in the Argentine Army (wounded, with decorations). Entered service as a private in the Hawaiian National Guard, rising to Brigadier General and Hawai‘i’s third Adjutant General.
Although he had reached the envious post of militia brigadier general, he relinquished his commission and had become a private again when, in his rage, he had found that he was not being sent to Europe to fight in World War I.
Stationed in Hawaii, he had decided that if he renounced his rank and started all over again in the States, he might have a chance to get into the fight. (Faulstich)
“So I resigned my commission and went to the States to get into training. I thought I would be recommissioned and sent to France where I could pot a few Krauts.” (Johnson; Faulstich)
He transferred to the Regular Army as Major in 1915, apparently expecting US to fight Germany. He commanded US troops [27th Rgt, 33 Div, American Expeditionary Forces (Siberia)] on the troopship USS Sheridan en route to Vladivostok, 1918. He was a major figure in the International Police Force in Siberia.
While with the allied forces, he “was sent to Vladivostock in command of the second expedition of 4,000 men in Camp Fremont, and there became chief of the international Military Police, where he rendered distinguished service.”
“Heard of the capture and imprisonment of a General Romanovsky, broke through the lines under heavy machine gun fire, engaged the general’s guard in a hand-to-hand fight, rescued the general and his family, and got them out of Russia.”
“As a token of his appreciation, the general took from his own coat a certain flaming medal of honor and pinned it on …. When the latter came to examine it, he found it was the medal of the officer’s order, Cross of St George, the highest Russian honor for valor – and the one he had denied at 17 because of his youth.” Montana Standard, December 8, 1929)
He lived in the Philippines for a time and managed a large plantation there. Then he bought a ranch in Texas. He later was liquor enforcement chief in San Francisco during prohibition.
He lived with Mrs. Johnson in an apartment on Lombard Street, and ultimately had been confined to his bed or a chair. He died in San Francisco, February 24, 1948.
Years after his Siberian sojourn, Johnson passed away quitely in his sleep at the Fort Miley Veterans’ Hospital near San Francisco. His moment of death was unlike his life. As a soldier of fortune, he had taken part in unnumbered battle in uncounted wars. The rewards of his military achievements, however, live on. Johnson was awarded nearly eighty decorations. (Faulstich)
He received three decorations from the Argentine Republic; the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) and Siberian campaign medal from the United States; DSO from Great Britain; the Croix de Guerre with palm from France …
Emblem of the Knight of the Crown and Order of the Crown of Italy from Italy; Distinguished Service War Cross from Czechoslovakia; the Rising Sun, Imperial Order of Meiji, from Japan …
Striped Tiger of the Order of Wen-Hu from China; Order of the White Eagle with sword from Serbia, and officers Order of St. George and a dozen other decorations from Russia.
The US Distinguished Service Cross was for actions November 17-18, 1919 in rescuing non-combatants (including, apparently, a cat) caught in a crossfire between Russian factions in Vladivostok.
“On three successive occasions Major Johnson went through a zone swept by intense fire of contending factions to the railroad station and brought out noncombatants through the continuous fire from rifles and machine guns.” Military Times)
He also won a Carnegie Medal for Heroism in a civilian rescue in Hawaii in 1915. (Holscher) (Lots of information here is from Orr, Faulstich and Holscher.)
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DAVID S HOLDEN says
Thank you for your posting on Sam I. Johnson. I encountered him in the Faulstich Papers held at the Hoover Institute at Stanford when searching for my dad, N. J. Holden (1900 – 1968) who also signed up in hopes of “potting krauts”, something his Saskatchewan cousin had been doing since 1916. I would like to read what Orr and Holscher had to say; a more complete citation would be welcome. Also, you’ll be interested in what Kenneth Roberts (1885 – 1957) has to say in his I WANTED TO BE A WRITER (1949), Chapter 10), as he was personally acquainted with and mentored by Major Johnson.