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First Lieutenant John Sjogren Memorial Statue

John Sjogren Memorial Statue (from

First Lieutenant John C. Sjogren was a Medal of Honor recipient and soldier in the United States Army World War II. He fought in the closing battles of the war in the Pacific Campaign and was the only Medal of Honor recipient classified as 4-F (physically unfit for duty) by the draft. He was a resident of Rockford, Michigan and the city’s only Medal of Honor recipient. [1] [2] [3]

John Sjogren (born 1916) grew up on a farm in Algoma, Michigan with his older brother Elmer, younger brother Norman, and three sisters, Lillian, Edith and Esther. He worked in Chicago as a bricklayer and commuted weekly home. When the Great Depression began in 1929, he worked on two farms to keep his family afloat. In 1938 he worked at the Wolverine Shoe and Tanning Corporation in Rockford, Michigan. In 1940, Sjogren called for duty through the draft, but was classified as unfit for service due to two of his vertebrae being deformed. His brother Norman, however, was able to serve and was fighting in the African campaign in Casablanca. Sjogren desperately wanted to join the fight, and in 1942, when he was called up by the draft again (for limited service), he successfully requested to be classified as available for active combat duty.
He persevered in his applications for overseas infantry duty and was finally able to serve in Camp McCoy in Wisconsin as a member of the Military Police, but still wanted to serve in the front and continued applying. He was accepted into the 87th Infantry Division in Mississippi and deployed with them when they were sent to Hawaii for jungle training and then volunteered for active duty in the 40th Infantry Division, headed to the Philippines. [1] [3]

The 40th Division in the Philippines

Sjogren joined up with the 40th when the Division was shipping out for the Philippines, during December of 1944. The war with Japan was nearing the final stages, ending with the combat operations in the Philippines, where the Japanese were making a last ditch attempt to hold out and MacArthur wanted full control. MacArthur wanted the Philippines taken as a launch pad for futher inland operations in Asia against the Japanese Empire as well as a point of personal pride for the loss of the islands in 1941. The 40th was deployed from New Britain Island to Luzon Island in the Philippines; a follow up invasion after the Japanese took the island in 1941. The 40th landed in Lingayen on the 9th of January and fought the Japanese steadily southward through Bamban and Fort Stotsenberg. The 40th faced some of their most intense battles of the war during this period; they fought through the Zambales mountains, Snake Hill, Storm King Mountain, the Seven Hills region and Mount Apo. During one of the battles, at Clark Field, Sjogren was wounded in the leg by shrapnel from a mortar, taking him out of the fight until the campaign had moved to Negros. [3] The 40th eventually pushed the Japanese back to Scobia Ridge and Williams Ridge, where the 43rd Division relieved them on March 2nd.
The 40th was redeployed to the Panay Islands on March 18, where they joined up with the Eighth Army under Major General Brush. The 40th was deployed in Tigbauan where they fought with the Filipino guerrilla forces against light Japanese resistance. After the seizure of Luzon and the Northern Philippines, the Japanese forces went on the defensive and dug in, since the Southern Philippines were surrounded by American held territory from all sides and there was no hope of escape or reinforcement. The 40th followed the retreating Japanese army up to Iloilo, the largest city on Panay, where the Japanese had destroyed most of the city. Since the guerrillas had already cleared most of the island and pushed the Japanese back to the Iloilo region, the combined force with the 40th took the city and slowly wiped out the retreating Japanese across Panay through the month of March. Before the end of March, the 40th combined the 503 Parachute Regimental Combat Team had taken Guimaras Island and deployed across the Guimaras Strait to the island of Negros.
The 40th met very little resistance in the landings near Bacolod, since the Japanese forces in the area had very little supplies and had the bulk of their forces concentrated inland, near heavily entrenched mountains in north-central Negros. The Japanese had heavily entrenched pillboxes on nearly unpassable terrain that they defended more desperately the more they were pushed back. To make matters worse, aerial and artillery bombardment had little effect, meaning it had to be taken by infantry. This entrenched defensive position in the mountains took nearly two months to eradicate the enemy from, and was the location where Staff Sergeant Sjogren’s actions that earned him a Medal of Honor took place. After the fighting in Negros finally ended on May 31, the 40th Division was moved to the Santa Barbara region of the Philippines for training and rest, where the Division remained until the war formally ended. On September 22, the Division was assigned to occupy Inchon, Korea until March of 1946, when the Division was deactivated from duty and returned home. [6] [7] [8]

Sjogren’s Actions

Staff Sergeant Sjogren took place in the fighting in Luzon and Negros in 1945, earning a Medal of Honor for his actions in the battle for San Jose Hacienda, Negros on Hill 3155 (called Suicide Knob by the soldiers). On May 23, 1945, he led a charge up an almost vertical hill by climbing broken trees that had been destroyed by artillery fire against entrenched Japanese soldiers supported by heavily armed pillboxes with full lines of fire. As a scout squad, Sjogren’s squad was ordered to flank the Japanese troops on the hill. The topography allowed for only one squad to advance at a time, and Sjogren’s squad was the first up. Shortly after charging up the hill and engaging the enemy under heavy fire, his second in command was shot in the head. Sjogren charged across 20 yards of open field of enemy fire and dragged him to cover, where Sjogren discovered his close friend had been killed. Sjogren then ordered his four remaining men to focus their return fire on the pillboxes and loaded himself with frag grenades. He made his way up the slope, throwing grenades to cover his squad’s advance. He somehow avoided the enemy fire and crawled his way to the pillboxes, covered by his men’s support fire. Sjogren dropped grenades into the gun slits in the bunker until the gunfire from it stopped and then made his way to the next bunker, slowly clearing the hilltop while his men picked off the Japanese that escaped the pillboxes. During the attack on one of the bunkers, Japanese soldiers threw 2 or 3 of the grenades back out. Sjogren pushed himself into the wall of the bunker to minimize his chances of being hit, and was only injured in the back and on one of his hands. To get past the bunker, Sjogren threw in more grenades in than the Japanese could throw back and cleared it. At another bunker, a Japanese soldier got his sights on Sjogren and froze up, allowing Sjogren time to get a grenade loose. Sjogren left the battle with no injuries apart from minor shrapnel wounds and a burn on his hand from when he pulled a hot barreled machinegun out of a bunker window. Sjogren and his squad went 50 hours without food or water during that battle. Sjogren’s actions and bravery in the face of overwhelming force led to the way for his company to advance and take the field. Sjogren killed 43 Japanese soldiers, at least one with hand to hand combat, and destroyed 9 pillboxes in all that day, undoubtedly saving many soldiers’ lives in his decisive action. [1] [2] [3] [4] He was leaving church on his 29th birthday when he was told he would receive a Medal of Honor. He was flown back to the United States where he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman. There were many speeches that day, but Sjogren’s was the most heart rending:
“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,” Sjogren said. “Many of you people… do not know, nor will you ever know, what those boys who gave their lives went through.” [1]

Sjogren then went on to serve in the National Guard in Michigan where he earned the rank of First Lieutenant and also participated in the Korean War when the Michigan National Guard was called for service. He retired from the Guard in 1953 and lived in Rockford until his death in 1987 from cancer. [3] A statue commemorating his life and service was erected outside the Rockford Area Historical Museum in the summer of 2016. [5]

Primary Sources:

1. Marn, M. (2016, May 26). Local family man risked all, lives on as national heroThe Rockford Squire.

2.”John C. Sjogren.Military Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. Note: Medal of Honor citation here.

Secondary Sources:

3. The Editors of Boston Publishing Company (2014 Ed.). The Medal of Honor A History of Service and Beyond,182-183. Minneapolis, MN.

4. Philip Martin McCaulay (2010). World War II Medal of Honor Recipients,606. Raleigh, NC.  

5. Austin, K. (2016, August 29). Rockford dedicates statue to city’s only Medal of Honor winner.

6. U.S. Military Campaigns in WWII: Southern Philippines. U.S.Army Center of Military History, 3 Oct. 2003.

7. General Staff of General MacArthur. Reports of General MacArthur: THE CAMPAIGNS OF MACARTHUR IN THE PACIFIC. Ch. 11. Vol. 1. U.S.Army Center of Military History, 20 June 2016.

8. Sebby, Dan. “CALIFORNIA’S OWN: THE HISTORY OF THE CALIFORNIA’S 40TH INFANTRY DIVISION.California State History Military Museum., 8 Feb. 2016.

Really Helpful Maps:

Campaign Map of Luzon

Campaign Map of Guimaras Strait/ Negros

Battle Map of Clark Field Region

Further Reading: