SSGT John Klinchok Born Nov 8, 1914 - KIA Nov 26, 1943

By all accounts, my Uncle John was a high spirited person who loved animals.  In fact, his sisters fondly remember him having an entire house full at one time! They included birds, dogs, cats, chinchillas, rabbits, snakes and even an owl. Having said that he was also known to be meticulous in nature and yet still be considered somewhat of a jokester and John Klinchokfree spirited “playboy” type. Ironically, his favorite song to sing was “Please don’t talk about me when I’m gone”.

On the left a photo of John Klinchok with his little sister Suzanna who died at age 9 from a brain tumor.

Due to political and civil unrest, his mother Mary Birman and father Paul Klinchok immigrated to the United States from Austria Hungary, in the early 1900’s.  Arriving at Ellis Island, the two moved to West Virginia and John was born in 1914. Not long after, the family then moved to Lynch, Kentucky. He was the eldest child (and only son) in a family of nine (two other children Paul and Elizabeth died in infancy). His sisters adored him, but because he was sent away to a private high school, they remember very little about those years. After high school, he returned home and went to work in the coal mines.  This was common practice for many immigrants in those years. His father Paul Klinchok (my grandfather) also worked in the mines, while my grandmother managed the family owned store and ran a boarding house for other immigrant miners. These were difficult times and my grandparents (both extremely hard workers) were determined that, through their own sacrifices, all of their children would be able to get their education and have the opportunities that they never had—in other words, to “live the American Dream”.
World War II was in its initial stages when John was drafted. Due to the fact that he had a severe injury that left him with a plate in his knee from playing football in high school, they rejected him and sent him home. That only seemed to have driven him more. You see, he was a proud patriotic man, who apparently felt like he could do so much more for the cause. A few years later and despite the previous rejection, John (who now was older than many of the new recruits) drove from Kentucky to Maryland with several of his friends to personally enlist himself into the Army Air Corps. That was in 1942. By July, he was already well underway with his schooling. From his own notes, we have determined that his military assignments would have been as follows:

SGT John J. Klinchok- July 15-20, 1942 Camp Meade, Maryland
- July 20-Sept 9, 1942 Kessler Field, Mississippi
- Sept  10, 1942-February 9, 1943 Chicago, Illinois
- Feb 11-April 3, 1943 Lyndall Field, Florida
- April 3-April 18, 1943 Salt Lake City, Utah
- April 18-May 6, 1943 Tucson, Arizona
- May 6-? Alamogordo, New Mexico…………………………….the notes stop there.

Our family unfortunately can only locate one of his personal letters a card written to his mother. He says everything is going well. He is enjoying himself but is kept busy. Keeping true to character, he ended with a light hearted joke only meant for his mother not to worry about him. We also have some of his military school notes, which provide a small glimpse of what he was being trained to do overseas— there were no doodles or scribbles—this was obviously something he took very seriously. Test papers, also included in the notes, confirm that he was indeed studying diligently and acing his classes.
A mere one and a half years later, on December 10, 1943, my grandparents received the dreaded announcement. Sent Western Union, it was addressed to John’s mother. It simply read:
“The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son has been reported MIA since November 26 over Germany. If further details are received you will be notified.”
 (Years later, my grandmother, a deeply religious woman, would say that although this was devastating news, it didn’t shock her too terribly much, as she had already had a premonition days before the telegram was sent.)
John J. Klinchok prior to his enlistementOn January 24, 1944 another letter was received offering a very brief account of what happened on his fateful flight.
By then, finally declared KIA, on February 11, 1944 John was posthumously awarded the Air Medal for his achievement in aerial flight.
In June 1944, the Army Air Force sent a letter with a list of crew members on John’s plane and the names and addresses of their next of kin. My grandmother received letters from Mrs. H.P. Bolick JR and one from Mrs. Phyllis Harris as the families tried to comfort one another in their common losses.
Little time to grieve, my grandmother (John’s mother) was forced to bury her youngest daughter, Suzanne age 9, just one year later. His father died 22 years later with complications from “Black Lung”, but she herself lived until the age of 94, never forgetting the ultimate sacrifice her only son had made a long, long time ago.
The only information we were given was that the plane went down on November 26, 1943. The mission (as we later found out) was Mission #11-Bremen Germany. Weather was bad, and the other planes lost sight of “Gregory the Great”, not knowing if it had been from mechanical failure or because they had taken a direct hit. All bodies were initially buried in a tiny German reportGerman church cemetery at Kronpinzenkoog. This was corroborated by German reports on file at Luftwaffe D (Luft) dated December 1, 1943. After the war, four of the crew members (including my uncle) were then moved to ARDENNES (a U.S. National Cemetery located near Belgium).
But the story doesn’t end there. A kind gentleman and my new found friend, Phillipe SSGT John KlinchokVanderdonckt  (who lives in Belgium) has since adopted John’s grave. He and his lovely wife give it the attention that we, his family, are unable to do. We are forever grateful for their kindness, as it is only because of Phillipe’s tireless research and desire to know more, that we are now able to speak for our departed loved ones.
I echo Judy Spark’s emotions. I truly believe that, due to divine intervention, the families of the crew are being brought together in a miraculous way so that these brave men can be forever immortalized for future generations. The time has finally come to learn, to remember, and to pay tribute to their courage. The crew’s own pact to “live together/ die together” is quite possibly the common link that provides their families with the strength to forge on until every member has been found and spoken for on this tribute.
I have attached a picture of John prior to enlistment. He obviously had lost a great deal of weight, but at 6’2” it probably wouldn’t have taken too much for him to look so thin.
You already have the picture of John and his little sister Suzanne who followed him in death, just one year later.
Klinchok sistersFor posterity sake, I have also included a picture of most of his sisters.
Standing L to R: Helen, Ethel, Margaret, Irene, Julia, Mary.  Anna (Susan’s mother and the second eldest) passed away prior to when this picture was taken and Ethel passed away just a couple of years after it was taken—we are blessed to have the others (including my mother) still with us.
Admittedly, I was born nearly 30 years later, so I can relay only tiny parts of what I have been told over the years. I can say with complete certainty; however, that John made our family proud in so many ways. We can now laugh at some of his silliness and remember fondly the good traits (as well as the bad) that he possessed. Oddly, I can already see some of those like behaviors in my own son. I think that this entire experience has been helpful, as it has forced us to remember and to acquire new information about the man that our family loved so dearly. Our shared stories and newly found friends will help us reminisce, laugh, cry, and hopefully once and for all be able to heal together.  After all these years, maybe that is all the Bolick crew ever really wanted us to do anyway.

Story written by Suzanne Orndorff.

S/SGT Klinchok was reburied permanently on March 30, 1949 in Plot D, Row 14, Grave 47 at The Ardennes American Cemetery in Neuville-en-Condroz, Belgium.

2 Letters his mother received from the Harris and Bolick families.
Letter from Bolick Family Letter from Harris family.
Special thanks to Suzanne Orndorff and Susan Holston for the photos,letters and story they provide in Memory of their beloved uncle John. Any information on each man of this crew is welcome, contact me at

On 22 Sept, 2011 I adopted the grave of SSGT John Klinchok through the organization "Le Royal Briscard". Created in 1992, on Mr. Arsène DEBATISSE’s initiative, at that time Chairman of the Royal Society “Le Briscard” and supported by the board of directors, theAdoption grave. Certificat of adoption.ceremony of homage and remembrance was born. The purpose is to remember American soldiers killed in action to liberate our country in 1944 and also during the bloody Battle of the bulge during the hard winter from December 1944 to January 1945. Everyone should be concerned whit it and should search for sponsor’s candidates amongst his family, his closest relatives and the people round about him! For those who wish it, it is always possible to pay his sponsored grave a short visit as the American cemeteries are accessible throughout the year.