Corporal John F. Scisley (1918–1943)

John F. Scisley (Courtesy of the Delaware Public Archives)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Born in Pennsylvania, moved to Delaware at a young ageConstruction, rayon mill worker
BranchService Number
U.S. Marine Corps301170
TheaterUnit
PacificCompany “M,” 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
American Defense Service Medal, Purple HeartBattle of Tarawa

Early Life & Family

John Francis Scisley was born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania, on June 19, 1918. He was the son of Stanley (Stanislaw) Joe Scisley (c. 1884–?) and Stella Scisley (née Bosak, 1899–1947). Stanley Scisley was born in Poland—then part of Russia—and emigrated to the United States, where he became a citizen; he worked as a coal miner and then as a farmer. Stella Scisley had been born in Pennsylvania to immigrants from Austria-Hungary. John Scisley had two sisters (one of whom died very young) and three brothers, as well as several half-siblings. He was Catholic.

The family moved to New Castle County, Delaware, soon after Scisley’s birth. The family was recorded on the census on January 7, 1920, living on a farm in Kirkwood Village. Scisley’s father was farming, and his mother was working as a railroad crossing watchwoman (though she was no longer doing that job by the 1930 census).

Scisley attended grammar school in St. Georges, Delaware. In 1932, he began attending Middletown High School, specializing in agriculture classes. He dropped out of school in 1934 and spent two years working as a construction machine operator for George and Lynch Contractors, a company based in Dover, Delaware. He was a tractor, bulldozer, and dump truck operator “in constructing of a navigation canal”—likely the project to widen and deepen the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal. He left that job in October 1936. Scisley was recorded on the census on April 19, 1940, living with his family in Kirkwood and working as a washer at a rayon mill—presumably the Delaware Rayon Company, where he was working when he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940.

In his Marine Corps paperwork, Scisley described his hobbies as hunting, horseback riding, and working on automobiles.


Marine Corps Career

Scisley volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps in Philadelphia, signing up for a four-year enlistment on November 8, 1940. At the time, he was described as standing five feet, 10¼ inches and weighing 144 lbs., with light brown hair and blue eyes. The following day, he joined the 1st Recruit Battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina. After completing boot camp, he was transferred to the Marine Barracks at the Washington Navy Yard on January 14, 1941, arriving the following day. He went on furlough during January 24–28, 1941. Private Scisley began a temporary duty assignment at the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, Washington, D.C., on April 1, 1941. While there, on August 25, 1941, he was promoted to private 1st class.  His assignment at Anacostia ended on October 5, 1941.

Private Scisley during boot camp at Parris Island, November 19, 1940 (National Personnel Records Center)

On October 6, 1941, Private 1st Class Scisley transferred to the Barracks Detachment, Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. On November 27, 1941, he was transferred to the Marine Detachment at the American Embassy in London, England. The following day, he sailed from New York City. Pearl Harbor came under attack while Scisley was at sea, and Germany declared war on the United States before he landed. His ship arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, on December 19, 1941. He joined the embassy detachment in London on December 20, 1941. According to his personnel file, that month, Scisley was assigned the Military Occupational Specialty (M.O.S.) of 604 (light machine gunner), but since he was assigned to an embassy, he remained on general duty.

On November 1, 1942, he joined the Marine Barracks at the Naval Operating Base, Rosneath, Scotland. A letter by a friend, Private 1st Class James J. Lynn, dated October 23, 1944, stated that Scisley also served in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, but there is no mention of that in his personnel file. On January 21, 1943, he was transferred back to the United States.

Private 1st Class Scisley joined the Casual Company, Marine Barracks, Quantico, Virginia, on February 1, 1943. He visited Delaware on furlough during February 4–17, 1943. On February 23, 1943, Scisley joined Company “D,” 1st Separate Battalion (Reinforced) at the Fleet Marine Force Training Center, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. That month, Scisley began training on the 81 mm mortar and his M.O.S. changed to 607 (light mortar crewman). His unit left Camp Lejeune on the evening of March 8, 1943, arriving at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton, California, on the morning of March 13, 1943. The unit was redesignated as Company “D,” 1st Battalion, 24th Marines (Reinforced) on March 26, 1943.

On June 2, 1943, Private 1st Class Scisley reported to Company “B,” Infantry Battalion, Training Center, Camp Elliott, San Diego, California, apparently for an eight-week refresher course as a rifleman. On August 2, 1943, he joined the 26th Replacement Battalion, Fleet Marine Force. He was promoted to corporal on August 4, 1943. Corporal Scisley was interviewed for classification purposes at Camp Elliott on August 19, 1943. Although he requested duty in tanks, with aviation mechanic as a second choice, it appears that he remained in a mortar squad.

On September 20, 1943, Scisley boarded the transport U.S.S. Mount Vernon (AP-22) at San Diego. The ship sailed the following day and arrived at Nouméa, New Caledonia on October 4, 1943. Two days later, he sailed for New Zealand. On October 10, 1943, he arrived in Wellington, where he joined Company “M,” 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Company “M,” or Mike Company, was the 3rd Battalion weapons company, consisting of three .30 machine gun platoons and one 81 mm mortar platoon. Based on his grade, he presumably served as a mortar squad leader.


The Battle of Tarawa

Corporal Scisley went into combat during Operation Galvanic in November 1943. The American target was Betio, a small island in the Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands. The Japanese had seized Tarawa from the British early in the war. Alarmed by an August 1942 raid on nearby Makin, the Japanese began fortifying Betio in earnest. The island was filled with obstacles, pillboxes, and trenches. The garrison included men from the elite Special Navy Landing Force. On an island as small as Betio, the Japanese could not afford to surrender any ground in the event of invasion.

Aboard his transport early on the morning of November 20, 1943, Corporal Scisley would have been offered a breakfast of steak and eggs—though it is unknown whether he had any appetite before his first battle. He may have watched as American battleships, cruisers, and destroyers shelled the island. The three-hour bombardment neutralized some of the Japanese artillery but left most of the defenders unharmed.

Marines in combat on Betio (National Archives)

Corporal Scisley’s 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines was initially held in reserve while the first Marines began hitting the beaches around 0910 hours. Shortly thereafter, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines landed at Red Beach 3, located on the north (lagoon) side of Betio, facing the east end of the airfield. The Japanese defenders were surprised by both the American amphibian tractors (amtracs) and that they were landing from the north.  Their fire, however, was still devastating, and pinned the Americans down at the beach. 

Corporal Scisley’s battalion landed at Red Beach 3 on the north end of Betio, east of the pier (National Archives)

Two hours into the battle, Colonel David M. Shoup (1904–1983) had little choice but to commit his reserves. He ordered 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines to land at Red Beach 3. There were no amtracs available, and their landing craft were unable to get past the coral reef ringing the island. Derrick Wright wrote in his book Tarawa 1943:

The Japanese gunners had now worked out the range to perfection, and the first salvos arrived just as the boats reached the reef. As the ramps came down the Marines – most of them laden with heavy equipment – leaped into the water amid a furious barrage from the artillery at the eastern end of Betio. Many disappeared into deep water and drowned; others began the long slog toward the shore amid a criss-cross of machine-gun and small arms fire. 

Marines fighting on Red Beach 3, where Corporal Scisley’s battalion landed, taking heavy casualties (National Archives)

3rd Battalion took heavy casualties. It is unclear if he was hit in the lagoon or after reaching shore, but Corporal Scisley died of a gunshot wound on November 20, 1943. It was only days of heavy fighting—supported by tanks, aircraft, and naval gunfire—that the Marines secured Betio. On November 22, 1943, Corporal Scisley was buried in Row C, Grave 100 in the 2nd Marine Division Cemetery No. 1 (later redesignated Cemetery No. 26). Organized resistance ended the following day. At the end of the battle, over 1,000 Americans and almost 4,700 Japanese (and Korean laborers) were dead.

Red Beach 3 after the battle (National Archives)

On October 23, 1944, Scisley’s friend, Private 1st Class James J. Lynn, himself wounded during the Battle of Tarawa, wrote the Marine Corps, explaining:

He & I were very good friends and I wish to have his home address so I may write to his family. I’ve found just how he died and I believe his family may be interested to know he suffered no pain.

Journal-Every Evening reported on January 20, 1944, that Corporal Scisley’s parents “were notified of his death Jan. 5, in a telegram from the Navy Department.”  The last letter they had received at that point was written at Camp Elliott on October 24, 1943.

When the cemetery was exhumed after the war by the U.S. Army’s 604th Quartermaster Graves Registration Company, its personnel were unable to identify him. Corporal Scisley was reburied with the designation X-165 in the Lone Palm Cemetery on Betio on March 26, 1946. Several months later, his body was moved to Hawaii. By November 13, 1946, he had been identified from his dental records. He was temporarily reinterred at the U.S. Army Mausoleum at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, on January 13, 1947. His family subsequently requested that his body be repatriated to the United States.

After services at Gornowski Funeral Home in Wilmington and requiem mass at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Delaware City on December 31, 1948, Corporal Scisley was buried at St. Paul’s Cemetery.

American aircraft are visible in this photo of Betio taken on December 4, 1943 (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)
Betio on December 4, 1943, shortly after the Battle of Tarawa (Official U.S. Army Air Forces photo, National Archives via Fold3)

Notes

Last Name

Though he served under the name Scisley, though there are quite a few variations of his last name in various records: Scisly, Sicily, and Schisley.

Brothers

Two of his brothers served during World War II: Joseph in the U.S. Navy and Chester in the U.S. Army.

Action in the United Kingdom?

According to his mother’s statement to the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, Scisley earned a “Medal for Shooting German Plane”—an event not mentioned in his personnel file. It is difficult to imagine any scenario in which a Marine stationed at an embassy would have had the opportunity to fire upon an enemy aircraft, and it seems equally unlikely that it could have happened while stationed in Rosneath, Scotland.

Private 1st Class Lynn

Private 1st Class James Joseph Lynn, Jr. (1922–1956), the friend who wrote the letter to the Marine Corps, served with Corporal Scisley in Company “B,” Infantry Battalion, Training Center, Camp Elliott, and then in the 26th Replacement Battalion. He was assigned to a different unit upon arrival in theater: Company “K,” 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Private 1st Class Lynn suffered gunshot wounds to the right shoulder and right thumb on the first day of the Battle of Tarawa, November 20, 1943, and was evacuated to the United States. He mentioned in his letter that he had learned to write with his left hand during his recuperation. He was discharged as a corporal at the end of the war.


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to the Delaware Public Archives for the use of their photo of Corporal Scisley and to Special thanks to Geoffrey Roecker, Webmaster & Lead Researcher at Missing Marines for providing background information.


Bibliography

“2 Delaware Soldiers Killed; 2 Others Wounded in Action.” Journal-Every Evening, January 20, 1944. Pg. 1 and 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89314959/scisley-kia-pg-1/, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89315039/scisly-kia-pg-2/

Applications for Headstones, compiled 01/01/1925 – 06/30/1970, documenting the period c. 1776 – 1970. Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, 1774 –1985. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/40050_2421406272_0418-00241, https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2375/images/2375_12_00020-03195   

“Corp. John F. Scisley.”  Wilmington Morning News, December 30, 1948. Pg. 4. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89314219/john-scisley-funeral/

“Delawareans in the Service.”  Journal-Every Evening, March 2, 1943. Pg. 20. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89314055/scisley-furlough/

James J. Lynn U.S. Marine Corps Casualty Card. National Archives.

John Francis Scisley Official Military Personnel File. National Personnel Records Center.

“Mrs. Stella Scisley.”  Journal-Every Evening, April 3, 1947. Pg. 35. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/89313968/stella-scisley-obit/

Muster Rolls of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1803–1958. Record Group 127, Records of the U.S. Marine Corps. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1089/images/33068_272171-00511 (February 1943), https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1089/images/33068_272186-00408 (March 1943), https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1089/images/33068_269918-00492 (October 1943), https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1089/images/33068_269931-00527 (November 1943)

Schisley, Stella. John Francis Schisley Individual Military Service Record, October 30, 1944. Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/20690/rec/1

Shaw, Henri I. Jr., Bernard C. Nalty, and Edwin T. Turnbladh. Central Pacific Drive (History of U. S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II, Volume III). Historical Branch, G-3 Division, Headquarters, U. S. Marine Corps, 1966. https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/History%20of%20the%20U.S.%20Marine%20Corps%20in%20WWII%20Vol%20III%20-%20Central%20Pacific%20Drive%20%20PCN%2019000262600_1.pdf

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4295772-00314   

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4531891_00810

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2442/images/m-t0627-00546-00667  

World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. National Archives at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6482/images/005270023_01966

Wright, Derrick. Tarawa 1943: The turning of the tide. Osprey Publishing, 2000.

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Delaware, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947. Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System. National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44003_09_00009-01489


Last updated on November 24, 2021

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