MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin National Guard Soldier was buried in his final resting place Sunday, Sept. 29 in Monona more than 75 years after his death in New Guinea during World War II.
Army Tech 5th Grade John E. Bainbridge of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, was a member of the 32nd Infantry Division’s Company C, 128th Infantry Regiment when he was killed Dec 2, 1942 during the Battle of Buna.
Bainbridge’s remains since 1947 rested unknown at the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. The military recently identified him and his family requested that he be buried at Monona’s Roselawn Memorial Park.
“His sister is buried at Roselawn,” said Nancy Cunningham, who is Bainbridge’s niece and was two at the time of his death.
Born in 1919 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Bainbridge grew up in Sheboygan before graduating from Fond du Lac High School. He worked as a store clerk when he enlisted as a cook in the Wisconsin National Guard with Sheboygan’s Service Battery, 120th Field Artillery, 32nd Infantry Division. The unit departed Sheboygan on Oct. 17, 1940 for a year of training in Louisiana to increase military readiness of the U.S. Army.
Bainbridge trained with the 120th in Louisiana before he was discharged in November 1941 due to family hardship. Upon his return to Wisconsin, Bainbridge joined his parents in Madison and worked as a meat cutter at Oscar Mayer & Company. However, the Army rescinded his discharge after the U.S. declared war on Japan and he rejoined the 32nd Infantry Division in time for its deployment to Australia in July 1942. He had been promoted by this time to technician 5th grade and assigned to Company C, 128th Infantry. Gen. Douglas MacArthur ordered the 32nd to the New Guinea jungle in November 1942 to halt the Japanese approach to Australia.
His remains were hastily buried on the battlefield and they could not be positively identified when he was reburied in early 1943 at a Buna cemetery. Bainbridge’s remains were designated “Unknown X-135” when he was reinterred in 1947 in the Philippines at the Manila American Cemetery.
Bainbridge’s remains were exhumed Feb. 22, 2017 and sent to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification using mitochondrial DNA technology and other procedures. The agency sought out Cunningham and other relatives to provide DNA samples to assist the investigation.
“It was like time stood still for one second as 77 years of waiting, hoping and wondering came to a glorious halt,” said Cunningham about her feelings when she received the notification call from DPAA.
Bainbridge’s funeral was conducted with full military honors. Brig. Gen. Joane Mathews, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Army, presented the U.S. flag to Cunningham on behalf of the entire Wisconsin National Guard.
“Every time I present a flag, I am full of emotion, but this one seemed different not only because of the Soldier’s incredible service and sacrifice, but because the family had been waiting so long for positive identification,” Mathews said. “What made it even more special was that he was a Wisconsin National Guard and 32nd Division Soldier.”
Bainbridge’s name is recorded on the Walls of the Missing at the Manila American Cemetery along with other Soldiers designated Missing in Action from WWII. A rosette will be carved next to his name to indicate he has been accounted for.
The 32nd “Red Arrow” Infantry Division was formed on July 18, 1917 for World War I from the Wisconsin and Michigan National Guard. The Red Arrow reorganized after the war in the National Guard of both states and entered active service in 1940 to improve national military readiness during the opening years of WWII. The Battle of Buna lasted from Nov. 16, 1942 to Jan. 23, 1943 and was the 32nd’s first WWII battle. Its 654 days of combat in New Guinea and the Philippines were the most of any American division during the war.