Donald E. Johnson, 75, who was head of the Veterans Administration during the Nixon administrations, died of complications of cancer Aug. 10 at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Va.
Mr. Johnson, a onetime seed and fertilizer dealer from West Branch, Iowa, and former national commander of the American Legion, was appointed administrator of the Veterans Administration in 1969.
He then served five tumultuous years at an independent agency balancing budgetary constraints with the needs of a growing veteran population resulting from the Vietnam War. He resigned in 1974 under intense criticism from national veterans associations and a few Congress members for his support of a White House proposal to cut benefits for physically disabled Vietnam veterans.
Mr. Johnson, a World War II Army veteran, defended his record, pointing out that overall aid -- from educational benefits to GI home loans -- was at a record high level during his tenure. He went on to serve as deputy assistant secretary at the Commerce Department, and he was chief of staff to Sen. Roger W. Jepsen (R-Iowa) from 1983 to 1985 and executive director of the National Credit Union Administration in Washington from 1985 until his retirement in 1993.
Mr. Johnson, a former Alexandria resident, had lived in Fredericksburg since his retirement. He was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and reared in West Branch. During World War II, he served as a technical sergeant in the 89th Division of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army in Europe. His military honors included the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
He attended Iowa State University before and after his military service. He became active in business and civic affairs in West Branch, eventually becoming president of DJ Feed and Supply Co. and holding elective posts with the American Legion.
He was past president and trustee of the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library Association and president of the 89th Infantry Division World War II Society.
Survivors include his wife, Mary Jean Johnson of Fredericksburg; six sons, Alan Johnson of Portland, Ore., David Johnson of Ocheyedan, Iowa, Brian Johnson of Adel, Iowa, Kevin Johnson of Des Moines, Kurt Johnson of Rochester, Iowa, and Robert Johnson of North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; four daughters, Julie Johnson of Alexandria, Joan Johnson of Ouray, Colo., Beth Johnson Buck of Fort Collins, Colo., and Susan Johnson Vega of Milwaukee; 16 grandchildren; and a great-grandson.