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Thursday, November 11, 2010
Veterans Day: Sergeant John Scott Pinney

Many military veterans deserve more praise and gratitude than they have ever received. The late Sergeant John Scott Pinney is among them. Veterans Day seems like an appropriate time to tell you his story. NEW: Listen to an audio podcast of this post.

Last year, for Veterans Day, I posted a tribute to Captain John F. Whitaker, US Army, retired. That essay led to an unexpected but welcome development, my involvement in a larger biographical project, which is ongoing and is likely to be so for some time. Along the way, I have learned more than I told before of Sergeant John Scott Pinney's story.

He was killed in action on February 16, 1969, in the act of saving a wounded comrade. People who know about such things tell me that he deserved -- and still deserves -- a Bronze Star for Valor or even a Silver Star, for his actions that day. However, the circumstances of his death went unreported -- even to his family, as far as I have been able to discover. This may have something to do with the company commander having been relieved of duty later that same day. I can imagine that messing up the paperwork.

As part of that larger biographical project I mentioned, I've written Captain Whitaker's account of what happened. This may be the first of several steps in a lengthy process we hope will lead to a posthumous decoration for Sgt. Pinney.

Whether or not that ever happens, at least you'll know the story. Here it is, as Captain Whitaker told it to me in multiple interviews, in November 2009 and April and May 2010. -- DR

Sergeant John Scott Pinney (born 7 May 1942) was a squad leader in C Company, 12th Calvary, of the US Army's First Cavalry Division. He was stationed in Tay Ninh Province, Vietnam, when I was OPCONed to C Company briefly as a combat engineer.

I met Sgt. Pinney on my first day with C Company. He was smart and competent, but not flamboyant. He was fastidious in his personal conduct and in fulfilling his duties. He was almost always the first to volunteer for a patrol, and his patrols were successful. He got along with everyone and was universally respected in the unit. I talked with him a lot and went on patrols with him.

I spent several weeks with C Company. Near the end of that period, on February 16, 1969, we went on yet another patrol in the jungle near Tra Ku. Several hours into our patrol, we came under attack. We dug in.

At one point the Platoon Sergeant, a large man, left in the company of another soldier, a much smaller man who was relatively green, to visit the command post. As these two returned, they drew a lot of enemy fire. They took turns firing at the enemy and crawling back to our positions.

The Platoon Sergeant was hit by enemy fire. I recall that he was hit near his collarbone. He called out that he was hit. He was perhaps 80 yards from our foxholes. The other soldier, who had gone with him, made his way safely back to our position.

Sergeant Pinney was on lookout. He saw the Platoon Sergeant get hit and heard him call out. Pinney began to work his way, under fire, out to the Platoon Sergeant, who was slowly dragging himself toward our position. I yelled to him not to go, but he kept going. The Platoon Sergeant was soon hit again, receiving a flesh wound in the leg.

Sergeant Pinney reached the Platoon Sergeant and began dragging him back to our position. He squatted as low as he could and still drag the large man. He had one of his arms under each of the Platoon Sergeant's shoulders and was dragging him backwards, exposing himself to enemy fire in the process. The rest of us provided covering fire.

The Platoon Sergeant was not mortally wounded. He was conscious but bleeding. He yelled to Pinney repeatedly, "Let me go! Let me go!" As he was dragging the Platoon Sergeant to safety, Sgt. Pinney was hit at least once each in the left side and the left leg. After this, he had to crawl, but he kept dragging the Platoon Sergeant toward safety, pausing now and then to return fire with his rifle. Finally, Pinney was hit in or just below the heart and went down hard. At this point, he had managed to drag the Platoon Sergeant at least halfway back toward our positions, but 30 or 40 yards remained.

We and the sergeants were still drawing a lot of fire. I told the company commander that I was going to get them. He objected, but I left my foxhole and went anyway. The platoon kept up their fire, shooting just over our heads.

I reached the Platoon Sergeant first. He told me to see to Sgt. Pinney, who was hit worse. Pinney was several feet away from the Platoon Sergeant at this point. I reached him quickly and saw that the Platoon Sergeant was right. Pinney's wounds were more severe. I never saw so much blood in my life. I was able to drag Sgt. Pinney back to our foxholes. I stopped a couple of times along the way to return the enemy's fire with my .45.

Then I went to retrieve the Platoon Sergeant. The platoon was still providing covering fire, and I was able to drag the Platoon Sergeant to safety. I called for one of the guys to help, and he came out and helped for the last several yards.

When I got back to Sgt. Pinney, he was clearly dying. We tried to stop the bleeding, but with little effect. I yelled to the radio operator that we needed a medevac helicopter. He called for one, with the captain's permission.

Within 25 or 30 minutes, choppers arrived to provide air support. They suppressed the enemy in the area, so the medevac chopper could come in.

I had received some minor wounds and was sent to the aid station to be patched up. When I returned, Sgt. Pinney had already been flown out. I never saw him again. I knew that he would not survive.

His last words to me were, "I'm gonna go home."

I credit Sgt. Pinney with saving the life of his platoon sergeant at the price of his own.

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