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Dec 6, 2011 5:57 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

French Government Honors World War II Vet From Hampton Bays

Dec 7, 2011 10:51 AM

In January 1945, Chet Sinclair of Hampton Bays was sitting on a snow pile in France’s Ardennes forest. His good friend and foxhole companion had just been killed, and Mr. Sinclair’s feet were frozen. Gangrene had begun to set in.

With the temperature hovering between 10 and 15 degrees for days, Mr. Sinclair, who was serving as a rifleman in the U.S. Army’s 90th Division, was finally being taken off the front lines for the first time in a month. He was immediately taken to a hospital in France. After spending a week there, he was transferred to a hospital in England where he would spend the next three months. Doctors were successful in saving his toes, which he had come close to losing.

To this day, Mr. Sinclair has to take medication to ease the pain he feels in both his feet due to damaged nerves he suffered during the Battle of the Bulge, the last major offensive by the Germans that lasted from December 1944 through January 1945.

Today, Mr. Sinclair recounts his days fighting in World War II from his Quogue Sinclair Fuel office in Hampton Bays, which he owns. His office walls are lined with pictures and memories from both the war and the subsequent trips he took to France in recent years to pay homage to his fallen friends.

On November 11—Veterans Day—Mr. Sinclair, now 87, along with 42 other Americans, was awarded a Medal of Honor from the French government for services performed during World War II. The ceremony, which was held at a French school in Manhattan, was attended by more than 100 people and hosted by the French consulate for New York.

“The medals were brought out on red plush pillows,” Mr. Sinclair said in an interview this week. “They gave us each a kiss on each cheek and it was just a really nice ceremony.”

Mr. Sinclair said he first learned about the award while reading a magazine article two years ago in which another member of his unit was given the citation. After reading the story, Mr. Sinclair contacted the man via email and learned that he could also apply for the medal through the French consulate.

Eighteen months after filling out the application, which outlined in great detail his military history both in France and elsewhere, Mr. Sinclair learned that he was eligible to receive the award.

“There are just a lot of emotions,” Mr. Sinclair said.

Mr. Sinclair, who was drafted in 1943, spent a large portion of his time oversees in France. In July 1944, one month after D-Day, Mr. Sinclair landed on Omaha beach in Normandy and joined the efforts to push the Germans out of France.

“I was a rifleman,” Mr. Sinclair said. “The only job worse than that was a kamikaze pilot. Your life expectancy was not long—days, hours even.”

A few months after landing at Normandy, Mr. Sinclair and his unit found themselves in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. It was during the month-long offensive by the Germans that he almost lost both of his feet to the elements.

“Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, they were the worst,” Mr. Sinclair said while recalling events from almost 66 years ago. “We lost a lot of men. It was a little bit warmer in Normandy than up in the Ardennes in January, we didn’t have tents. We would just clear the snow away and sleep there.”

On January 26, 1945, Domenic Scannapieco, Mr. Sinclair’s friend since boot camp, was killed just a few feet from him. According to Mr. Sinclair, Mr. Scannapieco is buried in a military war cemetery in Luxemburg.

“That was hard,” Mr. Sinclair said. “I send fifty dollars to France every year now and a company puts flowers on his grave for me and then they send me a picture. Every year now for the past few years.”

Since returning home to Hampton Bays in December 1945, Mr. Sinclair has made sure to make the most of his life back in the states. Immediately after returning home, he returned to high school to earn the last three credits he needed to graduate. In order to make ends meet, he drove the only school bus in Hampton Bays for two years.

“I used to pick up the kids in the morning, park down the street, and go to class myself for a few hours a day,” Mr. Sinclair recalled with a smile.

After graduating, he quit his job as a bus driver and worked for seven years as a janitor at the school before eventually going to work for a painter. In 1954, he purchased a small oil company that had just 10 clients and continued to build it. Today, Quogue Sinclair Fuel boasts close to 4,000 customers and is a prominent business in Hampton Bays.

In 1949, Mr. Sinclair married his wife Charlotte, now 82, and they had two children. Their son, Mark, died of a brain tumor at age 43, and their daughter, Brenda, is now 52. Mr. Sinclair is also a proud grandpa with five grandchildren—three boys and two girls—and recently became a great-grandpa with the arrival of a great-grandson.

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A true American hero. God Bless
By Spikeland67 (25), Sag Harbor on Dec 7, 11 9:36 PM
3 members liked this comment
Well said spikeland67. God Bless you and your family Mr. Sinclair.
By auntof9 (159), Southampton on Dec 8, 11 5:56 PM
1 member liked this comment
I would like to add my congratulations to Chet Sinclair. While I have known him and his family for many years, I never knew this aspect of his life. The fact that he never promoted his heroism is just another example of those who made up the Greatest Generation. While it may have been easier to distinguish right from wrong in simpler times, none of us can question their devotion to duty and honor to country. This is an award long overdue and well deserved.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on Dec 8, 11 9:55 PM
2 members liked this comment
Uncle Chet (actually, great uncle) is a great person! I'm glad to see this article about him.
By suzer67 (51), nanuet on Dec 11, 11 12:38 AM