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"That was the best day of my life, when I saw my mom again." (Video interview, 1:05:44)

   John Kinsel, Sr.
Collection image
John Kinsel [2003]
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: Marine Corps
Unit: 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division
Service Location: Bougainville Island (Solomon Islands); Guam (Mariana Islands); Iwo Jima; Pacific Theater
Rank: Corporal
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John Kinsel, Sr. was born in 1921 near Lukachukai, Arizona, on the Navajo reservation. He became accustomed to hardship from an early age—his father died while he was still an infant, and he later lost a younger brother. Kinsel was a member of the second cohort to be trained as Code Talkers, and he remembers working together with some of the “First Twenty-Nine” to develop additional code terms. Kinsel was assigned to the 9th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, and his first combat experience came during the Battle of Bougainville, where he recalls the intensity of jungle fighting but also the camaraderie of celebrating Thanksgiving with his fellow Marines. Kinsel also took part in the Battle of Guam in July-August 1944, then in February 1945 he was involved in the Battle of Iwo Jima, where he and his regiment landed as reinforcements on D+5. On his sixth day on the island, Kinsel was wounded by falling rock after the Japanese set off a large explosion inside a cave network.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (15 clips)
» Part 1 
Download: video (90 min.)
 Video (Interview Excerpts) (15 items)
Place of birth in Lukachukai, Arizona, Navajo name, family background; volunteering for the Marine Corps. (03:45) Graduating from boot camp and reporting to Navajo Communication School; Philip Johnston’s role in proposing the idea of Navajo communicators and serving as an administrator; the First Twenty-Nine Code Talkers being recruited and trained in summer of 1942; Kinsel being part of the second group of Code Talkers to be trained, and the further development of the Code (07:33) Returning home from the war and wanting to forget about his experiences; working as an instructional aide at a school in Chinle. (01:57)
Recalls being in New Zealand for eight months for training and preparation; positive memories of New Zealand; nighttime bombing raids by Japanese bombers while training on Guadalcanal; participating in jungle fighting in the Battle of Bougainville, and celebrating Thanksgiving on Bougainville. (04:58) Explains how the Code was used, and typical situations for using the Code - including for transmitting nightly movement orders; also explains how certain Code terms were developed, and how he worked together with other radio operators. (05:22) Preparing for the invasion of Guam; training for amphibious operations; convoy to Guam had to avoid a Japanese task force; swimming in the ocean for the first time during a swim call on the way to Guam (05:56)
Experiences during the Battle of Guam - facing heavy resistance on the beaches and throughout the island; finding native Guamanian civilians who had been executed by the Japanese; story of Marine who got leg trapped by a giant clam while wading ashore. (09:54) Experiences during the Battle of Iwo Jima - landed with 9th Marine Regiment on D+5; sprinting across Motoyama Airfield No. 2 under fire; combat at night; being injured by falling rock after Japanese set off large explosion inside cave network; eating cake and ice cream on the hospital ship that evacuated him to Guam, where he spent two weeks recovering in the hospital. (08:53) Returning to Guam and seeing drastic changes brought on by rapid military construction projects; reuniting with the rest of his unit and seeing his Navajo friend Samuel Yazzie on Guam; remembers the medical personnel who evacuated and treated casualties from Iwo Jima. (04:27)
Returning to Hawaii from Guam by ship; going on liberty in Hawaii; returning to the continental United States and receiving a thirty-day furlough; returning to the reservation on furlough, seeing his family again - uncle didn’t recognize him at first; medicine man holding traditional ceremony for him on his return. (07:16) Returning to San Diego after furlough; serving on guard duty in San Diego - learning to ride a bicycle for the first time; being discharged from the Marine Corps on January 1, 1946. (03:57) Story of Japanese POW who was curious what language the Code Talkers were using; story of another Japanese POW who committed suicide. (01:55)
Recalls coming under fire from Japanese rocket launchers on Iwo Jima; watching the flag raisings on Iwo Jima - explains how the first flag raising did not become famous, but rather the second one; discusses whether any Code Talkers were present for the flag raisings; shows medallion given to him at 4th Marine Division reunion in 1969. (05:30) Discusses his birthplace and early childhood; spending time with his grandparents and extended family; taking care of the family livestock; riding donkeys for fun (03:08) Recalls how his grandfather encouraged him to go to school; going to school at a small one-room school near home for one year; going to boarding school at Fort Defiance for two years - recalls harsh discipline, bullies, inadequate food, and struggling to learn English; going to boarding school at St. Michael Indian School - how church services helped him to learn English. (06:56)

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  October 26, 2011
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