When Company B marched out of the gate of what was then called the Bayonne Naval Depot and across the bridge to the 33rd Street Central Railroad Station, people cheered and the St. Vincent’s Drum and Bugle Corps played patriotic music. The men then climbed aboard a train bound for the West Coast.
Of the more than 235 Marines that set out, more than half of them had never been to boot camp. Instead, they learned close order drills during their once a week training sessions at the naval base, and learned to shoot and handle weapons during three two-week trips to military camp each summer.
Company B of the 21st Infantry Battalion was formed in 1947 as part of a nationwide reserve movement to supplement armed services that were being demobilized after World War II.
While almost no one foresaw the outbreak of the Korean War, most veteran military members knew there would be a need for soldiers, and wanted a reserve to call up if war did break out.
“Many of the young men were caught up in the uniforms and the parades.” – Alfred Czarnecki
While some members of Company B came from Jersey City and other towns in Hudson County, most were natives of Bayonne, giving the company a local nickname of “Bayonne’s Own.”
The company was made up of a mixture of innocence and experience, said Barry Dugan, a member of the Bayonne Detachment of the U.S. Marine Corps League.
Recruited into Company B
One of the combat veterans was Alfred Czarnecki, a veteran of the South Pacific who had come home to a job at the Ford plant in Metuchen.
He was sitting in a Bayonne tavern talking sports when one of his friends pointed to an article in the local paper about the recruitment drive.
He didn’t need to join the reserve. But for some reason even he couldn’t explain, he wanted to do it.
The captain told Czarnecki that he needed experienced men to help get the younger kids in shape.
“Many of the young men were caught up in the uniforms and the parades. They were there to impress the girls,” Czarnecki recalled years later. “They didn’t understand the other side.”
Henry Danilowski said he was sitting in the Polish American Club in early 1948 when John Sinnicki recruited him.
Although only in high school when he enlisted, Sinnicki looked and sounded like a Marine, and was very active in recruiting others – many of them out of Bayonne High School or Bayonne Technical High School. Many he recruited played on the U.S. Marine basketball team.
“We need someone to do publicity,” Sinnicki told Danilowski, who he knew was interested in photography.
“Up to that point, I mostly took pictures of babies, brides, and graduates,” he said, and the offer to serve as Company B’s official photographer intrigued him.
He would later get a certificate from the military and go on to record many of the most significant moments of Company B, from weekly training sessions to their two-week summer trips to Camp Lejeune, N.C.; Little Creek, Va.; and, finally, their trip by train at Camp Pendleton in California before being sent overseas to Korea.
They were in Camp Lejeune in June 1950 when North Korea invaded South Korea – so before they came home, they knew they would be going to war shortly.
The call up came in August 1950, and Company B shipped out of the 33rd Street train station on Sept. 7, 1950 for the six-day train ride to Fort Pendleton, Calif.
To this day, Louis Giovanni said John Wayne made him join Company B. Recruiters for the reserve came to Bayonne Technical School and talked him and others into going down to the Dewitt Theater to see the film “Sands of Iwo Jima.”
“After that, I was sold,” he said. “I went to the Naval Base the next Wednesday to start training.”
He graduated high school on June 6, 1950, and almost immediately shipped out to a two-week reserve camp, where they learned that war had started in Korea.
Many of the Marines were angry at President Harry S. Truman, who had wanted to do away with the Marines.
Someone wrote “Truman’s Police Force” on the side of the train when they went through Missouri – Truman’s home state.
“The captain got angry and made us wash it off in Chicago,” Giovanni said.
Retraining for war
When they arrived in Camp Pendleton – which is near San Diego – the 21st was disbanded, and its members divided into three groups: combat ready, needs more training, or those who required boot camp. Giovanni needed more training, as did a number of others in Company B, who spent the next four weeks getting it.
“We then went to San Diego and sailed for Japan on the U.S.S. William Mitchell,” he said. “We wound up on the tail end of a typhoon. Everybody was sick.”
Danilowski said the trip to Japan took 15 days. Sick or not, they continued to train while on the ship.
After a brief layover in Japan, they landed in Korea.
“On Nov. 10, 1950 [which happened to be the Marine Corps birthday], this group landed in Wonsan Harbor, North Korea, and were immediately sent north to join the 1st Marine Division,” Dugan said.
Danilowski later called Korea “The Land of Morning Calm.”
But it was a land of thousands of hills and narrow spaces between each, and the air stank of dung (Korean farmers used human waste to fertilize).
He said his career as a company photographer ended when he got off the boat.
“A sergeant called me over and asked me if I was the company photographer, and when I said yes, he handed me a machine gun and told me to shoot with that,” Danilowski said.
They were part of the 2nd Replacement Unit, and were split up to fill in the ranks depleted by combat. Sinnicki and others went with the First Marines, while Giovanni and others went with the Second Marines.
They had to travel from the harbor at Wonson to the north near the Chinese border.
Some were loaded on to an ammunition train for part of the ride; then on to trucks; and, finally, they had to walk up into the hills. Some members of Company B found themselves defending Fox Hill, one of the more well-known conflicts near the Chosen Reservoir.
Sinnicki and others went to the other side of the reservoir.
Then, the temperature plunged. None of them had the right gear for winter, wearing rubber boots with flaps, none insolated. Danilowski said although they got some winter clothing, none of them were trained for winter war. Giovanni got frost bite before Thanksgiving and was sent to a M.A.S.H. unit, then to a hospital in Japan. Owen Balluec of Bayonne also got frost bite, but was treated and was later able to return to active duty.
Danilowski remembered Thanksgiving – how cold it was and how they had to open cans of beans with a bayonet. The beans were caked in ice.
“We ate it like that or we didn’t eat,” he said.
‘The Chosin Few’
The day after Thanksgiving, all hell broke loose.
“We had driven the North Koreans to the Chinese border,” Czarnecki said.
They were part of the push to the Yalu River when the Chinese entered the war. Hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops had gathered on the other side, undetected by the United Nations forces. When they attacked, the marines were surrounded.
The Chosin Reservoir battle, which took place during severe cold in late November 1950, was one of the most difficult of the Korean War. Elements of the First U.S. Marine Division were surrounded and attacked by 12 Chinese divisions. Three Marines from Company B died on Nov. 8: Edward H. Joachinson of Jersey City, and Robert J. Matusowski and Daniel J. Stiller of Bayonne.
Two days later, Robert V. Sharpe of Jersey City died in combat. In the following days, Charles N. Brandner, a Cub Scout leader from Bayonne; Nicholas M. Arcuri of Jersey City; and John D. Lawton Jr. of Newark also perished. The last Marine from this company was killed on Feb. 5, 1951 in another part of Korea. A monument to these men stands on the site of the former Naval Base in Bayonne.
A fighting retreat
Czarnecki said when they got the order to retreat, they still had to fight since they were surrounded. They brought out their equipment and wounded and as many of their dead as they could.
They reached Hungnam on Dec. 11, where they were evacuated by sea.
“Most of the city was in ruins, and to keep the enemy from using it, our side blew everything up,” Czarnecki said.
The ships went to Pusam. From there, Czarnecki went to Japan for treatment, after which he was reassigned to Guam.
Danilowski was reassigned to a different company of Marines made up of men from the far west.
“They called me Danny because they couldn’t pronounce my name,” he said.
Even though he had given up his official title as photographer, Danilowski continued to take pictures, although he was required to turn them in. Years later, he attended an art show in Toms River where he saw a painting named “Band of Brothers” that resembled a photograph he took. When he questioned the artist, the colonel admitted he had based it on a photograph someone had turned in back at Korea.
Although some of Company B never made it home, and some came home early, many of those that set out from Bayonne made the return sea voyage together and arrived home in time for Christmas – but Christmas 1951, a year after Pres. Truman had predicted.