Manuscripts/Mixed Material Interview with Stephen T. Johnson
JOHNSON: It was built in the 1930s by the Pepceck family who now live on Long Island, for about three million dollars. This is when three million dollars was a very considerable sum, and it was a magnificent house. There was a [reception] there and the whole embassy turned out. It was really a nice homecoming, and we found that it was very easy to shift from living in a small row house in Washington to this palace.
Q: You all were in Czechoslovakia from when to when? Were you ischool there?
JOHNSON: No. My parents were there from December of 1953 to March of 1958-which was a long time for that kind of assignment principally because my Dad got involved in the talks in Geneva with Indochina and other things I don't know. I guess the Department found it kind of easy to just leave him there. He commuted a lot. Being ambassador to Czechoslovakia wasn't very onerous because our relations were pretty minimal. There were various crisis and things, but the embassy was quite small - I think 12 people at the time. There were no Marine guards.
My brother and I were sent off, almost immediately, to the Army or the Defense Department school at Heidelberg, Germany, which had a dormitory. So we arrived there after Christmas vacation of 1953-54 and established ourselves with other students in the dormitory. It was a normal American high school, and we returned to Prague on vacations. There was always kind of an adventure getting back to Prague because getting your visa was difficult; and it wasn't that they refused visas, but it was just the paperwork took some time.
Q: Well, the Czechs were one of the most hard nosed on theiadministrative side.
JOHNSON: They were. I know the local employees sometimes would just disappear from the embassy. They would be arrested, and there would be no explanation at all. It was a grim kind of time in Czechoslovakia, and my brother and I didn't spend that much time [there]. We were in school and went back on vacation. We obviously took some trips with our parents to other places in Europe.
When the next school year came up, the school year 1954-55 which was my senior in high school. The dormitory in Heidelberg had been closed during weekends. It was just a weekday dorm. But an army family in Heidelberg happily invited me to stay at their place on the weekends. So I continued at Heidelberg while my brother went to Frankfurt High School - again a Defense Department high school - because they had a seven day dorm there. That kind of split us up at the time. So we progressed through high school.
Then after graduation in 1955, I went to the University of Virginias a freshman. The school year 1955-56.