A memorial’s missing name

Fishtown­er John Plenskof­ski (left) has a bronze plaque (middle) for a Port Rich­mond sol­dier who died in the Korean War; he and fel­low vet Jack Green (right) think it should be part of the of­fi­cial me­mori­al. STAR PHOTO / SAM NE­W­HOUSE

One Fishtown vet­er­an wants to in­clude a plaque on the Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al in hon­or of the first Phil­adelphi­an to die in the war — a Port Rich­mond man.

This Me­mori­al Day, on Monday, May 27, an­oth­er year will go by without wide­spread re­cog­ni­tion of the name of an im­port­ant Phil­adelphia vet­er­an.

Fishtown nat­ive and Korean War vet­er­an John J. Plenskof­ski said he won’t at­tend ser­vices at the Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al this Me­mori­al Day, be­cause he’s still hurt over a 10-year-old slight that left a plaque for a fel­low vet­er­an out of the me­mori­al.

“I was raised in an Ir­ish neigh­bor­hood with a Polack name,” said Plenskof­ski, 86, who grew up in Fishtown. “I ain’t a tough guy, but I don’t back down.”

Plenskof­ski is a former team­ster and Fishtown nat­ive who once met Jimmy Hoffa. He fought in World War II and reen­lis­ted to fight the So­viet Uni­on in Korea. The son of a Philly cop who died in the line of duty after be­ing hit by a trol­ley in Au­gust 1937, Plenskof­ski fought in the 5th Re­gi­ment­al Com­bat Team be­fore tak­ing a bul­let in the arm from Chinese sol­diers at the Yalu River in Oc­to­ber 1950. He later re­ceived a Purple Heart medal.

For years, he’s claimed that he was “tricked leg­ally” out of head­ing plans for the Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al, which today stands at Front and Dock streets at Penn’s Land­ing. Part of the me­mori­al plans, Plenskof­ski claims, called for a large bronze plaque in hon­or of the Port Rich­mond man who was the first per­son from Phil­adelphia to die in Korea – Private First Class Stan­ley A. Go­goj.

“Pfc. Go­goj has the du­bi­ous dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first man from the Phil­adelphia area to be killed in the Korean War,” said Plenskof­ski, who is pres­id­ent of the Phil­adelphia Korean War Vet­er­ans Chapter No. 38.

Go­goj lived on East Clear­field Street and at­ten­ded North Cath­ol­ic High School. Plenskof­ski nev­er knew him, but he heard that Go­goj used to play with Phil­adelphia’s Pol­ish Amer­ic­an String Band. Go­goj died on June 30, 1950, in Korea along with 22 oth­er sol­diers when their Sky­mas­ter trans­port plane was bombed by North Korean sol­diers while it sat on the air­port tar­mac, five days after war broke out. He was 20.

Nearly $2,000 in me­mori­al funds went to­ward a plaque in hon­or of Go­goj. It was in­ten­ded for pub­lic view­ing, but now only col­lects dust in Plenskof­ski’s stor­age unit in Doylestown, where he now resides.

“We were misled, ma­nip­u­lated and de­ceived by law­yers,” Plenskof­ski said. “We went through hell. People did what they wanted to do, and they took over.”

In 1987, Plenskof­ski first cooked up the idea of build­ing a me­mori­al for sol­diers from the Phil­adelphia area who lost their lives de­fend­ing South Korea from the North. His group, Chapter 38, was re­cog­nized as the founders of the me­mori­al by City Coun­cil Res­ol­u­tion 1154 in 1991, and re­ceived a per­mit in 1992 from the Fair­mount Park Com­mis­sion to use the Front and Dock streets site. Plenskof­ski’s name is also on a copy of plans with a Pennsylvania copy­right stamp from 1992.

“John Plenskof­ski spent a lot of time and ef­fort and gave his all to that me­mori­al. Chapter 38 was the sole founder of that me­mori­al,” said the Rev. Charles Knap­pen­ber­ger, a Chapter 38 mem­ber.

But dur­ing the fun­drais­ing pro­cess, Chapter 38 had to leg­ally in­cor­por­ate a new group, Phil­adelphia Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al, Inc., for fun­drais­ing pur­poses, which opened the door to sev­er­al new mem­bers who took a con­trolling in­terest in the pro­ject.

The funds Chapter 38 had raised, as well as their ar­chi­tec­tur­al plans, be­came prop­erty of the new group. The new mem­bers stopped keep­ing Plenskof­ski in the loop long be­fore the me­mori­al was erec­ted in 2002, he said.

“We foun­ded it. They wanted all the cred­it. They took the cred­it. I came up with the idea,” Plenskof­ski said.

Fel­low Chapter 38 mem­ber Jack Green backed up Plenskof­ski’s story.

“Everything we sug­ges­ted, they knocked down. Any­thing we wanted to say, they wouldn’t listen,” re­called Green, a former taxi driver who was a cor­por­al in Korea, of the new mem­bers who got in­volved in the pro­ject.

A rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Friends of the Korean War Me­mori­al which formed in 2004 to ad­min­is­ter a res­tor­a­tion grant at the me­mori­al — the Friends group is also com­prised many of the mem­bers of the Phil­adelphia Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al, Inc. — de­clined to com­ment on the rift with Chapter 38 mem­bers. The group did not re­spond to fur­ther e-mail re­quests for com­ment.

One mem­ber did say the group was not aware of any plans for a Stan­ley A. Go­goj plaque.

A rep­res­ent­at­ive of the Phil­adelphia Vet­er­ans Ad­min­is­tra­tion de­clined to com­ment on the situ­ation.

This year, as he does every year, Plenskof­ski will cel­eb­rate Me­mori­al Day at the Korean War Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al on the Sunday be­fore Me­mori­al Day, when he knows the men who took con­trol of the me­mori­al he foun­ded won’t be there.

As for what could be done to get Go­goj’s name on any sort of me­mori­al, that’s up to in­de­pend­ent groups or in­di­vidu­als who could go through the pro­cess of cre­at­ing a me­mori­al from scratch. Or, Plenskof­ski could use the Go­goj plaque, which is his prop­erty, in some oth­er, new me­mori­al.

“All I want to do is hon­or the sol­diers who died,” Plenskof­ski said. “All I know is I did my duty.”

Re­port­er Sam Ne­w­house can be reached at 215-354-3124 or at sne­w­house@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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