John G. Sinnicki
John G. Sinnicki was born and raised in New Jersey after his parents immigrated from Poland. When he was fifteen, he and some friends decided to enlist with the Marines though they had to lie about their ages. While in the Inactive Reserves, he was called to serve in Korea in 1950. During his service he was assigned as a wireman, recording names of incoming casualties. Though injured during his service in Korea, he refused the Purple Heart medal because he didn’t want his parents to know he had been injured. He details the fighting he witnessed, his encounters with the North Koreans and Chinese, revisiting South Korea, being a chairman of a committee to build a Korean War monument in Bayonne, New Jersey, and the gratitude shown by South Koreans for his service today.
Encounters with the Koreans
John Sinnicki reflects on his encounters with the North Koreans in various settings. He describes how on the battlefield, they were dedicated to their Communist cause; however, in a civilian sense, they were very friendly and willing to engage with the Americans. He recalls KATUSA playing an incredibly helpful and important role and regrets they haven't received the credit they deserve.
Impressions of the Chinese
John Sinnicki describes his experiences with the Chinese. He recalls feeling sorry for many of them, as they were very hungry and cold and would take clothing and shoes from dead Marines in the field for their own use. He explains that the Chinese POWs were sometimes executed rather than being allowed to leave and possibly rejoin the Chinese military.
John Sinnicki explains his pride for having fought in the war. He describes his experience revisiting Korea and being impressed with how well the country has recovered and modernized and continues to do so. He goes on to describe the great appreciation the Korean people showed him for his service.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
J: John George Sinnicki.
I: Okay. And when were you born?
J: February 20th, 1932.
I: And where were you born?
J: Bayonne, New Jersey.
I: Bayonne. . . . Tell me a little bit about your family.
J: My family?
J: My parents, or —
I: Yeah, your parents.
J: Well, my parents came from Poland. They farmed up in Bayonne —
J: My grandfather had a farm there.
J: Now there’s [old] farms, there’s no more farms there in Bayonne; it’s all modernized and whatnot. That’s about it.
I: Okay. Do you have any siblings?
J: Oh yeah. I’m married and have a son and daughter. Two of my grandchildren just received $2,000 a year from the Koreans for scholarships,
J: for the scholarship [unintelligible]. My grandson is at Boston College studying to be a doctor, and my granddaughter [unintelligible] and she’s at the University of Maryland.
I: Wow, great! Can you tell me about what got you to enlist in the Marine Core?
J: Well, we were in high school, I was only 15. We played ball, and the Marines were looking to recruit people in Bayonne. We joined the reserves in Bayonne at the
J: Bayonne Naval Base. It was B-[Cot], B-21st Battalion. We all signed up, my friends and I. At 15, we signed up. We lied and told them we were 21, and they still took us. I was discharged right before — in 1950, but then I re-upped. [I] signed up at the age of 18, and I went to Korea.
I: I see. Where was it? When was it? And where did you sign up?
J: At Bayonne, New Jersey.
J: We had a reserve outfit —
J: At the Bayonne Naval Base.
I: Do you remember what year it was?
J: Yeah, it was 1948. I signed up for two years, so then I was discharged — not discharged, but my re-enlistment was up — my enlistment was up,
J: and then I re-enlisted again, and that was in 1950.
J: I graduated from high school in ’49, and then went to work for one year at the Great American Insurance Company, and then we were activated.
I: I see. Do you remember the first time you heard about Korea and the Korean War?
J: Oh, first time?
J: I think we were at a — we were training then in Bayonne, and. . . after training, we all stopped at the bar. That’s where we heard Truman saying [that] the troops are going to be sent to Korea. That was our first time. I worked for a company that still had the World War Two rules in effect, so they paid
J: by insurance, and they sent me a check every — about $25. That was pretty good.
I: I see. Had you known about Korea at all before —
J: No, never heard the word “Korea” or anything like that, ever.
J: Never knew anybody from Korea.
I: Oh. When did you finally arrive in Korea?
J: At Wansong, we landed in Wansong. Went on a few patrols there. We
J: [were] greeted by, I guess, Bob Hope. [LAUGHS] He was there before us, but we still went on patrols. [I] remember [unintelligible] got a machine gun [nest] out there, and then from there I got assigned to Division Headquarters as a wireman. Never touched any wire, didn’t have any wire lessons, stuff like that, but I guess I could type, so that was the reason they
J: sent me to [headquarters] as a wireman. I recorded the names of the incoming casualties for Division Headquarters. Then I was assigned to — we had to move from Hungnam to [Hagaroo], we were moving Division Headquarters. I was on the first [unintelligible], they sent us up in trucks to see if we would get through, and we did. We got through,
J: and I got up in Hagaroo. We stayed there for two, three days resting, but then we had to come back with the trucks. I wanted to stay up in Hagaroo, because that ride was torturous — bad. . . awful ride, and dangerous, but we cut cards, and I lost, so I had to go back with the truck. I came back to my barracks, and. . .
J: the rest of my group that was in the same room with me, they — nobody was there, and the sergeant says to me, “John, you have to pack up all their affects that they left behind and send them to their families. They [the soldiers] were all wiped out.” They got called for the [unintelligible] with Colonel Drysdale, and they all got wiped out in
J: Hellfire Valley. That’s when. . . Drysdale had to push through, I guess you know that story. And then from that day, they just had me stay at Division Headquarters and guard the place at night, so we went up in the hills and circled our base.
J: That was the. . . that was really amazing. Very cold,
J: but it was something to bring me up on the hill, and you could see into the houses where the people were. North Koreans were sleeping there and whatnot, and here we were on the hills. It was — snow on the ground; it was something to see.
J: The North Koreans were really communist. . . . Of course, we gave some of them weapons when we went up there. They fought us, so we stopped doing that.
I: Have you had any close encounters with the local North Koreans?
J: Oh yeah, we had. . .
J: well, let’s see. . . yeah, in some cases, we bought eggs from some of them, and some of them — a lot of them are friendly, too, you know — not everybody was a communist. They sort of took good care of us, too, a little bit, you know. They weren’t that
J: bad, you know. It was the Chinese that really were bad. The North Koreans were — I guess they were satisfied that we were coming up there, because they had a tough time, too. Now they got [a] really tough time. I feel sorry for them.
I: Mm-hmm, wow. Have you also met Korean soldiers?
J: North Korean soldiers?
I: Or South Korean —
J: Oh yeah.
J: What amazed me is that we had the ones that carried and gave us ammunition and supplies and took care of the wounded, and stuff like that. That amazed me because A, we were fighting, and they were right with us fighting, you know what I mean,
J: and these — I forget what we called them. We had a name for them, they were —
J: Yeah, and they amazed me because they were — they stayed with us, too, and they got
J: water, or stuff like that. We’d give them our canteens, and [they’d] go fill them up, but mainly they would bring us supplies — food and ammunition, mainly.
I: How did you talk to them and communicate with them?
J: I guess — we used to give them cigarettes, and that sort of thing. They took a couple cigarettes, and some of them were barbers. They
J: gave us haircuts. It cost us one cigarette for one haircut, [LAUGHS] that day was great. We got along — somehow. Well, we did have [an] interpreter with us, too — a South Korean interpreter with us, so through him. . . but we all communicated with them, you know. After a while, they all knew us, and stuff like that. They were helping us.
J: [They were] doing a great job, too, and I wish that we could give them more credit, because I don’t think they got the credit they deserve, but I think that’s improving now.
I: I see.
J: Of course, we had a couple of [unintelligible] back home. . . in Washington, D.C. I lived in Virginia, and we had them very close to us, so every time we had a dinner for the Marines, we also invited those. . . what [do] they call them?
I: The KATUSAs?
J: Yeah, the KATUSAs,
J: yeah. They all came, they [were] invited.
I: Wow. Do you remember, by chance, the Chinese soldiers?
I: Any close encounters with them?
J: Well, we. . . took a lot of prisoners, and the South Koreans wanted to shoot the Chinese, [LAUGHS]
J: but I wouldn’t let them. I [said] no, they [said]. . . . I guess they would just, you know, fake it to the Chinese. The Chinese [would get scared], and I said, “No, no, no! Don’t do that!” But, you know, eventually, they — some of the — Chinese prisoners, they had to shoot them. . . . Not my company, another company, had to shoot them, because we were surrounded by them. I mean, what do you do? Do you let them go? If you let them go, they’ll say, “Hey wait! [They’re] just a
J: few Marines up there up on that hill!”, so we had to watch ourselves.
J: They decided to — the lieutenant, that was just a sergeant, and the lieutenant says, “No, [unintelligible] draw straws [unintelligible] wipe them out.” It was sad, you know what I mean, but that’s war. They can’t help it. If you let them go, they come back; there’s so many of them. I can still remember them coming up the hills.
I: Like in their white —
I: they were wearing white coats, right?
J: White clothing.
J: Very hungry,
J: and a lot of them, when they would break through some of our lines, they would stop and take shoes from the dead marines, and [the] warm clothes of the dead marines, because they needed the clothes, so rather than keep on fighting and wiping any of us out, they would stop, which helped us out a lot, otherwise
J: we would’ve all got wiped out.
I: I see. What company were you with?
J: Weapons company.
J: 81 Waters, [phone] observer and radio, and wire.
I: What was your rank?
I: So you were in the Chosen,
I: What other, would you say, military battles [were you in] or [what were] the battles you
were involved in?
J: Oh, after that we were — in February. . . we went to [Maysahn]. We were in Maysahn. We went also on patrols there because there were some North Korean soldiers still straggling around, so we had to go after them, but then after that we jumped off in [Furtaygoo], and we started an offensive [from Taygoo on].
I: Have you had any really close calls?
J: Oh yeah. We had to — well, from the artillery, the Chinese mortars. The Chinese artillery would, you know, pound us, so we were — you know, you’d dig your foxhole, you’d stay in there, and you’d count the shells, and hopefully it would. . . . One time, just a shell landed near me and just threw me up in there. That was about the
J: closest —
J: I got, so that was a little scary, but otherwise we had with us the [unintelligible] service. We had the [unintelligible] mortars, the 60 mortars — not so much the 60 mortars, but we had the Army 105s, the Marine Core 105s, the pilots who were directing the strikes on the mountains. Of course, their pilots, they were with us, too,
J: so their pilot would direct the planes where to go, and all that. We had — when we were close to the east coast was — we were on the east coast, we had the U.S.S. Missouri and the battleship, New Jersey, with their FOs with us, so we weren’t too concerned, because we had tremendous firepower. The only thing is that in getting the supplies, the ammunition, was
J: because those Chinese kept coming and coming and coming, but you run out of ammunition after a while, so that was — but we survived, and those things.
I: Mm-hmm. If I asked you what was your most difficult memory from the Korean War, would you say it would be the time you were in the Chosen Reservoir?
J: The Chosen Reservoir, I wasn’t there long enough.
J: Of course, we just took the first probe with our trucks [from Ondam to], and then we — moving Division Headquarters, and then we were successful, so we came back with the trucks, and that was the second group that went up that got wiped out completely in Hellfire Valley with Colonel Drysdale and [unintelligible] British Commandos, and they were —
J: well, what it was, it was. . . Colonel Drysdale radioed General Smith — he was the commanding general for us — whether we could. . . the fighting was so bad that he said, “We’ll never make it. Do we really have to go?” And General Smith says, “Yes, you have to go,” so he said, “Okay.” They all went: all the tanks went together
J: up front, and they had two rifle companies. . . [or] one rifle company, and they just pushed forward. I mean, just full speed, you know what I mean? Back through the [unintelligible] roadblocks, but then they left the other troops behind, and they weren’t real fighters — they were just, you know, wiremen and stuff like that. Those were the guys who were wiped out.
J: Some of them were captured, prisoners of the Chinese. Some of them made their way back to [Korduree], so they escaped the Chinese, but a lot of them got killed over there,
J: especially Army guys — they suffered badly.
I: I see, wow.
I: When did you come back to the U.S.?
J: Actually, I stayed on the front lines for fourteen months, so never — once or twice [unintelligible] hot food but slept outside for fourteen months, [running around] through the snow and all. I came back in 1951 of — December. So November to November, then —
J: November we landed in Wansong, and I came back the following year, but all that time we were on the lines fighting.
I: Have you had any wounds from the —
J: No, just a couple of scratches [unintelligible], and they wanted to give me a Purple Heart, I said, “No, I don’t want any,” because if you got a Purple Heart, they notified your parents, and I didn’t want my parents [unintelligible].
I: Oh really?
J: Yeah, that’s what they did, so. . . I said no, and
J: they said I’m gonna get shot, and I said I don’t wanna get a Purple Heart for a couple of scratches —
J: from being bounced up in the air, and he says, “Oh no, corporate, come over.” There were two of us, and I said, “Forget it. You’re 18, you don’t worry about medals.” [unintelligible]
I: Do you regret that?
J: Well, in a way, because you know. . . when you go for a job in the United States. . . .
J: I’m at 100% now — disabled, and we get a nice pension, and up in New Jersey, Bayonne, if you’re 100% you don’t pay any taxes, so that’s helpful.
I: Do you regret being in the Korean War at all?
J: No, because when I went back to Korea to see the difference — wow, [unintelligible] unbelievable. There was just
J: one bridge over. . . Seoul [before], now there’s about 20 bridges, there’s a big airport — unbelievable.
I: When were you there?
J: I think — I forget what year I went back. I went back like. . . I don’t know what year it was.
I: Well I’m so glad you got to go.
J: Oh yeah,
J: [it was great to] see it. They treated us well, I mean — the Korean people, they’ve done so much, you know.
J: [unintelligible] they’ve done too much, I think. . .
J: but they’re still doing it. They paid for everything; we just had to pay our airline ticket. The hotel was free, the food was good, and every night [there] was entertainment. They drove us all over the place. It was great. They’re so appreciative, because we have so many reunions and they always were there. When I had time,
J: after I came back, I joined the foreign service, the State Department — foreign services. I took a test, and I was a diplomat for 45 years. I served all over the world.
I: Wow. When did you become discharged from the military?
J: Let’s see, it was maybe — March of ’53.
I: Oh, ok.
J: So it was ’48 to ’53.
I: I know that the Korean War ended, like, July 1953.
J: Something like that, yeah.
I: Yeah. Do you remember that time, hearing about that?
J: Well, probably reading about it, you know what I mean? When you come back, you try to forget all those things.
J: [Keep that behind you, in other words.]
J: Otherwise, you wouldn’t make it back. You wouldn’t make it back because — a lot of Marines cracked up, you know. Even fighting, you know, you try to pull them back, and they just kept fighting, and. . . it affects you.
I: Then for you, too, after you came back home, back to the U.S.,
I: did you have several years where you didn’t talk about the Korean War?
J: Oh yeah, never discussed it.
J: I know the Marines called me up, they wanted me to re-join because they had a reserve outfit there in Newark, New Jersey, and I [said] no. I [said] one war was enough for me. I said I’d never do it again.
I: I see. Then when were you finally able to just talk about it and — think about it?
J: Well —
J: after a while, you. . . if you’re at a convention, or — with other Marines, then you discuss it, you know. “Where were you?” There, there. “What happened there?”, you know. That’s it, but otherwise we wouldn’t discuss it.
I: I see.
J: When I went to college I tried to discuss it. One time in my English class, [I] showed them pictures of the Korean War,
J: but they didn’t go for that at all. They didn’t know what it was.
J: But my professor gave me a passing grade, so [unintelligible] [LAUGHS].
I: I see. I see that you’re wearing the shirt from the Portland reunion.
I: Yeah, so you were there?
J: Oh yeah, that was a great reunion.
I: I heard there were a lot of people.
J: 4,000, [unintelligible] of us.
J: They had brought over the —
J: they have a very successful chapter there. They had a lot of [unintelligible] they paid for the British band to come over, and they paid for all the British veterans to come over, because they have a chapter out there. That was great, that was a very good reunion. First time I went out there, too. Well, I was in San Diego for the first time, too, with the first reunion there was,
J: but that was very good, probably one of the best reunion we had. We had a lot of Indians, they gave us — the regular native Indians took care of us one night with the salmon that they prepared. . .
J: it was nicely done.
I: That sounds good.
J: Yeah, it was great.
I: Have you been attending a lot of the Chosen Few reunions?
J: Well I could, you know what I mean,
J: but don’t forget I was in the foreign service, so once I retired from there, I — you know, but there were a couple times when. . . if I. . . the government sent me to Miami, and there was a reunion in Florida, so I was able to go. Even though I was working, I was able to attend the reunion, which was a good reunion in Miami, Florida.
I: Why do you attend all the reunions? Why do you think everyone always comes?
J: Well, because — the VA doctors are there. The VA doctors examined us. We had claims in, and they approved the claims, that way — and they informed us of the various benefits, so that was great. It was all — you know, you appreciate
J: what you did after a while, but the best thing was going back there and seeing all that, that was amazing. I’ve got a granddaughter [who] goes to the University of Syracuse,
J: And they’re talking about going to Korea for something — I forget what she says — so I might be going back with her. . . . I guess there’s something out there that they’re doing in Korea.
I: The professor who is doing this is from Syracuse.
I: I think they know each other!
J: No, she’s just a freshman.
I: What’s her name?
J: Synicki. No, no — she’s a [Rogen].
I: Oh, she’s the Rogen one.
J: She’s a Rogen.
I: What’s her first name?
J: First name is Kelly, Kelly Rogen.
I: Kelly Rogen?
J: She’s on the, the dance — the reason she went to Syracuse, she. . . tried out for the dance team,
J: and they picked her, so. . .
J: that’s why she’s at Syracuse.
I: I see.
J: They’re supposed to go, I think — I don’t know, for something, maybe two years from now or something like that,
J: so she told me. I said, “Oh wow!” [unintelligible] I can go again. I said, “I’ll go again!” She said, “Okay, grandpa.” [LAUGHS]
I: Wow. And that’ll be your second time going, right?
J: That’ll be my second time,
I: Ooo, yeah.
J: A long flight, though. Went 14 hours, it took me.
J: I guess it’s still 14 hours —
I: I think so.
J: from New York.
I: Yeah. Oh wow, that’s so great.
I: Anything else that you want to share with us about the Korean War? What impact did it have on you? Or about the legacy of the Korean War veterans? Anything that you want us younger generations to remember and know?
J: Well, I think the —
J: I ended up being chairman of a committee that I formed to build a big monument, so we built a big monument in Bayonne, where we trained. That was well attended, we had, you know, opening ceremonies, and it’s still in existence, so if you’re ever in Bayonne you can go see the Korean monument there. . . very nice.
I: That’s great.
J: From our reserve outfit, we lost —
J: eight who were killed, and they never, you know, wounded — well, killed — many were wounded. These eight — we have a memorial for the eight that we dedicate the memorial to. Then we list all the names of the ones that were in Baker Company, and we have every Veteran’s Day or something like that, or Marine Core birthday. . . we meet there, and —
J: we invite the Koreans, and whatnot.
J: The Koreans pick up the tab a lot,
J: which surprises me,
J: but they’re so grateful, I appreciate that. So grateful. Sometimes I think we ask for too much for them, but they don’t seem to mind it for some reason. In fact, a lot of times when we have a reunion someplace, we’ll go out and eat,
J: and somebody — a Korean who’s sitting way over there will pick up our tab, and tell the waitress that he wants our tab. That’s amazing.
I: Just, like, a stranger, over there.
J: Like a stranger, completely [a] stranger, saying, “Hey, we appreciate what you guys did.” I said, “Wow.” They don’t have to do that, but they still — and these are younger Marines, younger Koreans, but they still wanna do that because
J: They feel that. . . if it wasn’t for us, there wouldn’t be any South Korea, as you would know, but it paid off.
I: Yeah, definitely. Do you feel a little bit more of a connection, attachment to Korea and Koreans?
J: Oh, sure, sure, of course. No matter where we go, the Korean Church takes us in, and stuff like that.
J: If we’re there for a week or so, they’ll make sure they invite us down for a dinner and sponsor us and whatnot, which is appreciated, you know?
J: So you got to know [them].
I: Wow. Well, me being Korean, too, I love hearing that.
J: [There you go,] very good.
J: Of course, I was with the Department of State for so many years, I was stationed in
J: Washington, D.C. I was responsible for the construction of buildings and things like that, so I worked with a Korean architect, and he was very close to the ambassador there. We really — every time I had a — we have that Korean Memorial in Washington, D.C. That was amazing.
J: Every time we had a celebration, my reserve group, this Korean architect would make sure that he would tell the ambassador. The ambassador would come down, make a speech, present the biggest wreath you ever saw, and things like that, so that was real nice.
I: Yeah. And do you have any questions?
I: Well, I’m done with my questions, but I just love hearing these —
I: good stories,
I: you know? Anything else that you’d like to share with us?
J: Well, let’s see —
I: It could be back about the war again. [LAUGHS]
J: Yeah, yeah, okay. [One of the flag],
J: I forgot to tell you. Well, I guess not, I guess —
I: Do you have any — have you kept a lot of photos?
J: Oh yeah —
J: not that many, but — it was hard to — I had a little camera, and [in] those days I took some pictures, sent the rolls back. We had a cameraman, and he gave me all his pictures, so what I did with them is, my wife went and bought the book, and she put all the pictures
J: of Korea and everything in a book — with the photos, and then we donated that to our Bayonne Public Library.
J: So it’s everything in there for posterity, so people can go in and see everything about Korea, about our battalion and all the fights we were in and whatnot.
I: That’s very good.
J: Let’s see, what else. . . . No, that’s about it, I think.
I: Any of the veterans that are here at this reunion, do you remember them from Korea, when you were there?
J: Oh, yeah, some of them.
J: Yeah, we have [Efemayo] from the reserve outfit there, [Aye] from here, and then there was — in Washington, D.C., there was five or six
J: from Washington, D.C. here. There were others. . . you know, a lot of them passed away, [unintelligible] World War Two, then they were in Vietnam, and in Korea. World War Two, Korea, and then Vietnam, so — but they survived it. It was great.
I: Do you want to tell me any of their names, in case I meet them? [I’ll] know that you know them.
J: Uh, yeah, uh. . . [Sharkie], [one of them is] Sharkie, Andy Sharkie. The other is Dwayne [Trowbridge]. Another one is Ed Hoth. Did you interview Ed Hoth?
I: No, Dwayne Trowbridge I did, yesterday.
J: Did you? Great.
J: He’s a good friend, and Ed Hoth, I think he wants to get interviewed.
I: What’s his last name?
J: [unintelligible] because he was with the rifle company, [these are those] rifle companies, although he never made it to — he was a native. First battalion, regiment, [stayed in Koaree], so he never made it up to [Hiaroo]. The division I was with, Division Headquarters, we made it up there.
J: I don’t know Dwayne Trowbridge enough, what he was with, but — and then there’s a corpsman by the name of Dick [Dogul]. Did you interview Dick Dogul?
J: No? He’s a corpsman.
I: Anything you want to say to these brothers on camera? [LAUGHS] In case maybe they watch this later. [LAUGHS]
J: Yeah, well —
I: Thank you so much!
J: Oh yeah! Appreciate it.
[End of Recorded Material]