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Northwest Salmon




WWII veteran John Sinner is presented

Bronze Star Medal by Sen. John Thune

by Emre K. Erku

With shrapnel torn through his skin, Army Private First Class John B. Sinner returned to his M1919 .30 caliber Browning Machine Gun in Bastogne, Belgium and he helped save the world.

Surrounded by German forces, this Day County native, at the time 19 years old, was serving in H Company, 289th infantry regiment, 75th infantry division, 3rd Army under the command of General George S. Patton in WWII’s Battle of the Bulge. This decisive fight on Europe’s Western Front, which spanned between Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, resulted in 19,000 Americans killed plus 62,500 wounded.

Somehow, Sinner survived.

Though his shrapnel wound warranted a Purple Heart, his lieutenant was killed before he could bestow the honor. Now, 73 years later, after local VSO Kevin Bohn wrote a letter to a certain man requesting Sinner be properly recognized, the 91-year-old was treated to a surprise.

On Aug. 7, Sen. John Thune paid a visit to Sinner’s residence at Bethesda Home in Webster, and awarded him four military recognitions: The Army of Occupation, the WWII Victory, the European, African, Middle-Eastern and the Bronze Star medals.

With Sinner sitting at a head table in the cafeteria beside his sons Brian and Joel and their families, surrounded by military vets, local politicians, medical staff and his peers, Thune stressed that, if not for the private’s sacrifices, the world would have been a different place.

“John Sinner comes from a generation literally that rescued a continent,” said Thune. “He comes from a generation that won a war, and he comes from a generation of Americans that stepped in to save freedom and democracy at that crucial point in history, when someone almost succeeded in taking it away. That’s what we honor here today, is the courage, the determination, the skill, the professionalism, the great work ethic that we know here in South Dakota that contributed so much in our success in WWII and all those conflicts since.”

Thune went on to highlight how the Mt. Rushmore State has contributed to military campaigns throughout history.

“I tell people all the time – and it’s really true – that South Dakota has always punched above its weight when it comes to military service,” said Thune. “That’s exactly what John Sinner did. So I’m very pleased to be able to be here today on behalf of a grateful nation, and on behalf of the United States Congress, to give him some long overdue recognition for his service to our country.”

Right before approaching John’s side to honor him, Thune said, “Thank you all for being here today, and, most importantly, thank you sir, Private John Sinner.”

John grew tears in his eyes.

Back then, according to Brian, his father wasn’t able to graduate from Waubay High School. Instead, one day during senior year he spotted a folded American flag on his desk. This meant he was drafted, and it was time to put the pencil down and pick up a gun.

By January, 1944, he was off to fight Nazis.

“He just can’t believe he even made it,” said Brian. “They were just young high school kids.”

Many would argue, in the fog of war, that these adolescents turned into men fast. In doing so, besides thwarting the Nazi Wehrmacht, per Bohn’s letter to Thune, John would personally see Patton drive by. According to a Reporter & Farmer article published last year, after John survived the battle, he participated in the march into Germany. Later, he would ship back to a hero’s welcome in New York City.

Once he reached Day County, he’d get his GED, raise a family with his now deceased wife Lois, and they’d have kids – Ken, Brian and Joel.

After his speech, Thune, whose own father was a WWII Navy pilot in the Pacific Theatre, was asked what he’s learned about what they call, “The Greatest Generation.”

“They went, they served, and many cases they quietly carried out their missions. Then they come back here, got married, raised families and settled down,” said Thune. “I mean, it’s just a great story, and they’re just so humble about it.”

To them, said Thune, it was like, “What did you expect us to do?”

And although Bohn, who’s a veteran of the Iraq War, adamantly said he doesn’t want to take any credit for facilitating this event, giving all the credit to John, Thune later said Bohn was “instrumental” in pushing John’s recognition through.

Thune also gave reason why there are, to this day, U.S. military veterans who still haven’t received the recognition they deserve.

“A lot of this stuff is, these guys didn’t do the paperwork,” he said. “We need to do it. I mean, these are events where we have an opportunity to pay tribute to those among us who have answered the call of duty, served their country with great distinction and honor, and I think as a community we need to recognize that.”

For John, he’s as humble as much as he is a hero

When asked what he thought about receiving his belated awards, he gave a simple, “Good.”

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