Staff Sargent John C. Sjogren was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions against the Japanese in 1945 serving with the 40th Infantry division. Following the Second World War John enlisted in the National Guard. While in the Michigan National Guard he was called upon to serve once more in the Korean conflict. Retiring after 1953 from the army he lived in Rockford, Mi before dying from cancer in 1987.
John Sjogren was born on his family farm in Rockford, Michigan in 1918. John had two brothers one older and one younger as well as three sisters. To help earn money for his family John worked as a bricklayer in Chicago from a young age along side his father. For schooling John went to Gougeberg School where he described it as walking to school and sliding down “Norton Hill” on the way home.
When the Great Depression hit in 1929, John had just graduated from the eight grade. He went to work full time and stopped his education to help his family. He worked his family farm as well as neighboring farms to help his family. John got a job working for Wolverine Shoe and Tanning Corporation, which still has its headquarters in Rockford, in 1938 to further help his family. John was drafted into the army during 1940 as part of the selective service act but was denied because of two deformed vertebra. Being labeled 4F or physically unfit for service John returned to working at Wolverine. John was disappointed with being called physically unfit to serve because his younger brother took part in the invasion of North Africa after the US entered the war in 1941. In 1942 John was once again called up by the draft this time however for limited service. With his younger brother now fighting in Italy John requested to be classified as 1A or fully fit for duty, the request was granted. Eager to get into the fight, John requested to be a part of the infantry and shipped out as soon as possible. After jungle training in Hawaii, John was assigned to the 40th Division, 160th Infantry Regiment.
Following the Jungle training in Hawaii which John called the best training outside of actual combat, the division was sent to Guadalcanal for additional training. From there they were sent to New Britain to relieve the first marine division and finish the conquest of the island. The 40th division did not see any combat on New Briton and instead just secured the area. On January 9th 1945, the division attacked Lingayen Gulf where John was ultimately wounded by a mortar shell. After 10 days in the hospital, John returned to his unit to find many of his friends dead from either combat or dysentery. John was wounded again during this campaign from another mortar that had pieces hit him in the leg. (Algoma Historic Society)
The 40th infantry division took part in the 1945 campaigns to take back the Philippine islands from the Japanese. The 40th division was assigned the recapture of the Island called Negros in the Operations in the Southern Visayas. The initial landings made by the division found no resistance largely due to the friendly guerrilla fighters already on the island. The Japanese focused their defense in the central part of the Island where the mountains made a nice natural defensive position. The regiment that John was a part of, the 160th, was sent in to replace the 185th regiment to continue to provide pressure on the Japanese forces in the area and drive them from the mountains. (MacAruthur)
John rejoined his company after the battle of Panay Island and on May 23, Sjogren’s company was order to attack hill 3155. Rather than going for a direct frontal attack, Sjogren’s platoon lead the company on a flanking maneuver. Many in John’s squad saw it as a suicide attack, however, pressed onward with their mission. Sjogrens platoon was chosen to lead the attack because they had previously scouted out the terrain the night before in total darkness. Still fearing an enemy trap Sjogren and his men lead the company up the hill in the darkness before dawn. While advancing up the hill, John’s squad came under heavy machine gun fire.
I told the rest of my squad to start passing up hand grenades, which they thought I was being a fool as this would give away our position, but I started heaving them wherever I figured [they] were, I could hear them holler. Bullets were flying all around us. Sometimes I threw them from my knees and other times on my belly. I was lying behind a log a few yards ahead of my unit and I could see some of the [enemy soldiers] starting to take off. I shouted, ‘Let’s go!’ and we pushed ahead. (Rockford Squire).
In order to destroy one of the Japanese fortified positions or pillboxes, John had to put himself directly in harms way:
I squirmed up close enough to toss a grenade through the hole in the top of the pillbox,” Sjogren continued. “My squad kept picking them off as they tried to run from their holes. They also kept me covered as I crept up close to one pillbox after another. Sometimes I threw a grenade from 20 yards and sometimes I got within a yard and pushed grenades in. That’s about all there was to it. (Rockford Squire).
Doing this a total of nine times, earned him the nickname of Grenade John from his buddies that survived. John himself remarked that he would rather throw grenades than fire his rifle for combat. Sjorgren personally is credited with killing 49 Japanese soldiers including one in hand to hand combat during the assault. After fifty hours of continuous fighting, the hill top was secure with the help of another company and helped to bring about an end of fighting on the island. His platoon claimed that he threw 120 grenades during the battle on the ridge. His friends would get nervous when he threw them because he would wait for a one-two count before throwing them. He said that this was to keep the japs from throwing them back. (Larson)
Following the assault on the hill and John’s heroic actions, he was offered a field promotion to second lieutenant, which he accpeted. John was also wounded several times in the assault from his grenades being thrown back at him by the Japanese and from pulling on the barrel of a machine gun to remove it from a pillbox. On August 19th 1945, his birthday, John was informed that he was being awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. John was awarded the medal on October 12, 1945 by President Truman.
John’s reaction to the award was exactly how his buddies had expected, saying the only thing that brought him through the battle was his prayers. John was a very religious man all throughout his life. His men said he was very similar to Sgt. York from the First World War. He prayed before every patrol, while he was in combat, and every night. He never asked god to save his life, only saying that whatever god decided was alright with him. (Larson)
The 40th Infantry division was training for the invasion of the Japanese mainland after the battle for Negro island. The division was set to be MacArthur’s spearhead in Operation Olympic, but the war ended with the dropping of two atomic weapons before the operation was put into motion. However, instead of returning home, the division volunteered to be stationed in Korea. While in Korea, which had been controlled by the Japanese for forty years, the division worked to enforce the peace and help out the locals. Later, in the Korean conflict, the 40th division would return to fight in Korea against the communist in the north.
September 14, 1945 was the day that the Governor of Michigan declared to be known as Sjogren Day. On that day, John was presented by the people of his hometown, a 1946 Ford Super Deluxe Sedan.He was celebrated in his home town of Rockford with parades and speakers at the local high school’s football field. One speaker, Lt. Governor Vernon Brown, had this to say. “Words are too weak and inadequate to express truly the feeling your fellow citizens hold toward the record of courage and devotion to duty which you have established,” said Brown to the crowd. (Rockford Squire)
“Your country and your state are pledged to express their gratitude to heroes like yourself in action… for the welfare of you men who risked your lives in the service of this nation. Michigan is proud to call you its own, Lieutenant, the whole nation owes you a great debt of thanks. You and other young men like you saw this nation through the dark days of the past to the broad, sunlit uplands of victory and peace. You justified beyond our most hopeful dreams, the confidence we had in you. And—most important, perhaps—you gave America a powerful assurance for the future. We know of no task the future may impose which is too great for a nation which can produce men like yourself… On behalf of the people of Michigan, I say thank you, Lieutenant Sjogren, for the deeds of war you have done and the deeds of peace we know you will yet do. Thank you for the victory of yesterday and the faith you have given us in the security of tomorrow.” (Rockford Squire).
John was the last speaker at the event and he did not say many words, but the words carried tremendous weight and emotion. “To me there is no honor, surely not the Medal of Honor, that should compare with the honor that should go to those boys who will not come home ever again, many of you people… do not know, nor will you ever know, what those boys who gave their lives went through.” (Rockford Squire).
After the war, John joined the Michigan National Guard and was called upon to serve again during the Korean War. Having served in two different wars, John retired in 1953 at the rank of Major to live with his family in Rockford, Michigan. He was an active member of the Algoma Baptist Church singing in the choir and teaching Sunday school. In 1948 he married Jean Wood. They lived the rest of their lives together in Rockford having no children. John died of cancer in 1987 and is buried in Rockford Cemetery. He has a statue dedicated in his honor in front of the Rockford Area Museum.
- Larson, George H., Lt. A Grenade and a Prayer. N.p.: 40th Infantry Division APO 40, 1945. Print.
- “John Caleton Sjogren: Algoma’s Medal of Honor Hero.” Algoma Township Historical Society [Rockford] 1 Jan. 2011: 527-31. Print.
- Griffith, John. “John C Sjorgren.” John C Sjogren. Kent County, 27 Apr. 2007. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
- Marn, Matt. “Major John C Sjorgren Helped Win Key Battles in WWII, Awarded Medal of Honor.” Local Family Man Risked All, Lives on as Natinoal Hero. Rockford Squire, 26 May 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
- Roberston, Nathaniel T. “The 40th Infantry Divison’s March to the Korean War.” California Military History. California State Military Meseum, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
- “Major John C Sjogren.” Everyday Rockford. Everyday Rockford, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
- “John C Sjorgren.” National Public Library. National Public Library, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
- MacArthur, Douglas, GA. “Operations of the Eighth Army in the Southern Philippines.” Operations of the Eighth Army in the Southern Philippines. US Army, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.
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