Retired Army Col. Joseph M. Johnson, 72, an engineering officer and combat veteran of World War II who later was director of membership for the Retired Officers Association, died of cancer Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He lived in Fairfax County.

During World War II, Col. Johnson served as executive officer of the 1166th Engineering Combat Group in the Pacific Theater. He was a veteran of Okinawa, the scene of the war's last great amphibious operation. Earlier, he was assigned to the Army Desert Training Center in California.

After the war, Col. Johnson served in occupied Japan, then was engineering officer of the Vienna Area Command in Austria, and an engineering assistant at Washington State College. He was an instructor at the Army Engineering School at Fort Belvoir before the war.

In the 1950s, he served as chief of the supply control and distribution branch, engineer section, for Army forces in the Far East.He was director of the operations division at the Army Engineering School when he retired in 1959.

Col. Johnson then became director of membership for the ROA here, a position he held for 10 years. He also served as president of the Belvoir chapter of the ROA's Virginia state chapter.

He was born in Walker County, Ala., and earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University in Alabama in 1931. After receiving his Army commission, he served for four years as a company commander with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Survivors include his wife, Lillian, whom he married in July 1942, of Fairfax County; two sisters, Sue Garrison and Sara Nanney, both of Birmingham, Ala., and a brother, Bervin, of Melbourne, Fla.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the American Cancer Society.