WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — At 100 years old, John Sinke still has a clear memory of the beaches at Normandy, France in June 1944.
“We landed about four or five days afterwards. There was still a lot of action close by.” Sinke said. “I was in the tank corps.”
“There’s very few of them (that) come that back from that,” he continued. “We heard a lot about everybody getting wiped out, you know. We were just hoping we could make it.”
While the first wave of fighters who hit the beach did their jobs, there was still plenty of danger ahead.
“My sergeant, he was standing right by me when he got killed.” Sinke recalled. “A shell hit a building right next to us. (A) piece of shrapnel came right down through his helmet. He died right in my arms.”
Only two of the six men assigned to Sinke’s unit came back alive.
At age 100, Sinke is among a disappearing breed of storytellers who lived the tragedy and triumph of World War II.
He returned to Grand Rapids after the war. He married, started a family and landed a safe factory job.
But when he found out the Grand Rapids Fire Department was hiring, he decided to continue serving his country. This time it would be on the local level.
“I got rescued a few times, I can tell you that,” Sinke said. “‘Cause I got burnt a few times and that.”
News 8 recently sat down with Sinke during his surprise 100th birthday party, another milestone in his life. Reaching the century mark is an amazing accomplishment, but what sets Sinke apart is what he did in that time.
Photos and yearbooks were set up for his party, chronicling a life of service.
His daughter, Pat Welch, says telling his story is important.
“Kids, right from grade school, should know these stories so they know where they’ve come from in this country,” Welch said.