USS Pinckney
"Proud to Serve"
Named for Navy Cook First Class William Pinckney

William Pinckney


At the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26th, 1942, the carrier USS Hornet (CV 8) was sunk and the Enterprise would be hit twice by Japanese bombs, killing 44 Sailors and leaving 75 wounded. It was here that William Pinckney would earn the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions.

The USS Pinckney (DDG 91) is named for Navy Cook First Class William Pinckney 1915 – 1976.

Navy Cook First Class William Pinckney received the Navy Cross for his courageous rescue of a fellow crewmember onboard the USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz. When an explosion killed four of the six men at his battle station in an ammunition handling room, Pinckney and the other surviving Sailor attempted to exit through a hatch to the hangar deck above. When the other man grasped the scorching hatch, he fell back unconscious. Despite the suffocating smoke, flames, and gasoline fumes surrounding him, Pinckney carried the Sailor to safety. For his selfless heroism, Pinckney was awarded the Navy Cross.

From an excerpt from Edward P. Stafford's The Big E, the Story of the Enterprise:

"Of the six men in the handling room crew adjacent to Repair Two, four were killed. The other two were knocked out by the blast and came to in the dark, smoke-filled wreckage littered with the torn bodies of their shipmates. Jim Bagwell, a Third Class Gunner's Mate, groped his way, only half alive, through the flames to where a shattered hatch let in light from the hangar deck above. As he started painfully up the short vertical ladder, William Pinckney, Third Class Officers' Cook and the only other survivor, found the same hatch. In the first seconds after the bomb. the burnt area was worse than any imaginable inferno. Flames towered out of the smoke that burned the eyes and lungs. There were dark holes where the steel deck had been. Even a half-conscious man could smell gasoline enough to blow the whole deck again any second.”

“Carefully, little Bill Pinckney helped Bagwell up the ladder, but when the gunner's mate got his hands on the hatch combing at the top he yelled sharply with pain and fell back to the deck unconscious. With fires above and below, the hangar deck hatch was hot enough to sear the flesh. Nearly blind with smoke and barely able to breathe, still in shock and his ears ringing from the bomb blast a few feet away a few seconds ago, Pinckney picked Bagwell up and lifted him through the hatch to safety before he climbed up himself."

Bill, or ‘Bags’ to his friends, was a quiet man. If you were asked to pick him out of a crowd as one of only four African Americans to receive the Navy Cross in World War Two, odds are you might pick him last. Only proud to serve in the Navy, he never talked about medals or awards. Unassuming, he was just a man that always tried to do the right thing in his life, and succeeded.

William Pinckney was born in Dale, South Carolina, on April 27th, 1915, to Renty and Jenny Pinckney. His father struggled to get by as a carpenter on the many shrimp boats in the Beaufort area. Bill’s mother passed when he was eight years old and his older sister, Ethel, raised him. A few years later Bill would drop out of school and start working himself, only finishing the seventh grade. Following in his father’s footsteps, he worked as a carpenter along the waterfront, eventually partnering with his brother-in-law prior to joining the Navy.

While attending Robert Falls Elementary School, Bill did make one important discovery. Henrietta. Henrietta Pinckney was five years younger than Bill but they formed a friendship that would grow into a lifetime love. He would ask Henrietta to her first dance when she was fifteen and they were married eight years later at the Beaufort courthouse on November 6th, 1943.

On August 3rd, 1938, William Pinckney joined the Navy to see the world. He attended boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois, and then reported to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV 6) as a Cook after completing ‘A’ School. He served on the Enterprise for three years.

At the Battle of Santa Cruz on October 26th, 1942, the carrier USS Hornet (CV 8) was sunk and the Enterprise would be hit twice by Japanese bombs, killing 44 Sailors and leaving 75 wounded. It was here that William Pinckney would earn the Navy Cross and Purple Heart for his actions.

During the second bomb attack, a five-inch shell exploded in the magazine William was manning, killing four Sailors instantly and knocking him unconscious. When he came to, William found the magazine ablaze and full of smoke. Feeling his way out, he stumbled upon Gunner’s Mate James Bagwell, who alive but too weak to climb up the ladder to escape. Although taller and at least twenty pounds heavier than Pinckney, William threw Bagwell over his shoulder and started to climb. An electrical cable touched Pinckney and he was thrown back, once again knocked unconscious. When William regained consciousness, he fearlessly grabbed Bagwell a second time and successfully made his way up the ladder and eventually into the hangar bay. Once Gunner’s Mate Bagwell was safe, Pinckney went back down into the magazine, ignoring the burns that had taken the skin off his hands, right leg, and back. Fighting smoke and fire, he would only return from the space several minutes later after confirming the deaths of the others inside. He then collapsed and was treated.

When questioned about the incident, William displayed his trademark modesty saying,“ Well, I did help a little here and there.” When asked about returning into the fire after saving Bagwell, all he would say is,“ Yeh, I guess that’s about right. When the first guy seemed to be surviving pretty good, I went below to see if I could help someone else but they were all killed and I couldn’t help anyone.”

Pinckney was treated for shrapnel wounds and 3rd degree burns in Hawaii. While there he negotiated orders and spent the remainder of his eight years in the Navy at the Boat Basin in San Diego, California. He returned home to marry Henrietta and the two moved to Oceanside, California. On June 30th, 1946, William left the service as a Cook First Class.

He and Henrietta moved from Oceanside to Brooklyn, New York, where Bill joined the Merchant Marine and Henrietta worked as a telephone operator. William served for 26 years in Merchant Marine as a cook on such ships as the African Moon and Sir John Franklin. He was an active Mason and member of the American Legion in New York. After retiring, the two moved back to Beaufort.

William Pinckney passed away in his home on July 21st, 1976, after a two-year struggle with spinal cancer. He is buried at plot number 3381 in the Beaufort National Cemetery. Henrietta Pinckney, who still lives in Beaufort, survives him. They have no children.

Modest throughout his life, very few photos of William are available. Even at his own wedding no photos were taken. He never spoke about his time in the Navy or the incident in which he saved James Bagwell’s life. As far as Henrietta is aware, William may have never known the identity of the man he carried to the hangar bay that fateful day. When questioned about his time in the service, Bill would often tear up, saying only that he was ‘proud to serve’. This is now the motto of the ship that bears his name, the USS Pinckney (DDG 91), built in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

‘Bags’ enjoyed the simple things. Listening and dancing to the jazz music of Duke Ellington and following his favorite baseball team the Brooklyn Dodgers. Bill loved attending games, eating Coney Island hot dogs and fries at every opportunity. He loved to cook, often taking the kitchen over from his wife. The only food he was known to despise was beets, an aversion shared by the crew of the PINCKNEY. No beets will ever be served onboard.

One other trait of William Pinckney’s has found its way into the ship. You can already see on the faces of every Sailor in the current crew that they have assumed ‘Bags’ quiet modesty and are, and will always be, ‘Proud To Serve’.

Current USS Pinckney

USS Pinckney (DDG 91) was laid down on 16 July 2001 by Ingalls Shipbuilding, at Pascagoula, Mississippi, launched on 26 June 2002 and commissioned on 29 May 2004 at Naval Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme. In February 2006 USS Pinckney returned to San Diego after a five-month maiden deployment to the western Pacific. In July 28 DDG 91 participated in exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2006.

In April 2007 USS Pinckney departed San Diego, with the USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Carrier Strike Group, in support of operations in the U.S. Central Command Area of Responsibility. In July USS Pinckney participated in the fourth-phase of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2007 exercise. In August the guided-missile destroyer participated in exercise Valiant Shield 2007, off the coast of Guam. In September USS Pinckney returned to homeport after a six-month deployment in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

In July 2008 the guided-missile destroyer departed Naval Station Pearl Harbor to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2008 exercise. In July USS Pinckney departed San Diego for a western Pacific and Middle East deployment, as part of the Nimitz CSG. In March 2008 USS Pinckney returned to Naval Base San Diego after an extended eight-month deployment.

In May 2011 The Pinckney is currently participating in a Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX), off the coast of southern California. In July USS Pinckney departed San Diego for a scheduled Middle East deployment, as part of the USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) CSG. In September USS Pinckney participated in exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) 2011. In December USS Pinckney, assigned to Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, disrupted a group of suspected pirates close to the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC), south of Yemen.

February 2012 USS Pinckney returned to Naval Base San Diego after a seven-month deployment in the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet Areas of Responsibility.

1st USS Pinckney

The first USS Pinckney was a Brigatine purchased at Charleston, S.C., in 1798 for use in the Revenue Cutter Service. Transferred, however, to the U.S. Navy, she served in the West Indies Squadron under Captain Thomas Tingey. Commanded until 31 October 1798 by Capt. George Cross, then by Capt. Samuel Haywood, she remained with the West Indies Squadron through 1799. The following year she was sold.

The first USS Pinckney was named for Charles C. Pinckney, born at Charleston, S.C., in 1746, served in the South Carolina colonial and state legislatures and as a delegate to the Federal Convention, 1787, and was appointed Minister to France in July 1796. Refused official recognition by the Directory that year, he was appointed, with Elbridge Gerry and John Marshall, to serve on a special mission to France in 1797 which gave rise to the “XYZ Affair”. From 1798 to 1800 he commanded U.S. Military Forces south of Maryland and including Kentucky and Tennessee. He died at Charleston in 1825.

2nd USS Pinckney

The second USS Pinckney (APH 2) was laid down 3 June 1941, acquired by the Navy, November 27, 1942 and commissioned November 27, 1942.

USS Pinkney, an Evacuation Transport, departed San Diego, California on January 27, 1943. In mid-February, she arrived at Espiritu Santo, whence she sailed to Purvis Bay to deliver reinforcements and replacements to the veteran units of the fight for Tulagi and Gavutu. Throughout the remaining battles for the Solomon Islands, among them Munda, Vella Lavella, Shortlands, Bougainville, and the numerous engagements in the "Slot", she brought men, food and ammunition forward and evacuated casualties from field hospitals to better facilities on New Caledonia and in New Zealand.

In September 1944 USS Pinkney departed Guadalcanal for the Palaus, the next group en route to the Philippine Islands. On the 15th, she delivered her passengers, men of the 1st Marine Regiment, to LVTs, which took them on to the beaches at Peleliu. In early October she returned briefly to the Solomon Islands then sailed for Hollandia, then the Philippines. In November, she evacuated Leyte casualties to Hollandia, Mantis, and New Caledonia. In December, she prepared for the Luzon invasion.

On January 9, 1945, she landed Army troops on the Lingayen beaches, and, once again, assumed responsibilities for the care and evacuation of casualties, this time to Leyte. In late February, while en route to the Solomons, she was diverted to Guam, thence to Iwo Jima. On the 28th, she returned to Guam, disembarked her patients and began preparations for her last campaign, Okinawa. In April Pinckney was hit by a Kamikaze and badly damaged.

In October 1945 sailed for the Far East to carry replacements and occupation troops to Tokyo and Sasebo and return with veterans. By February 1946, she had completed another U.S. West Coast—Far East run. Inactivation followed and on September 9 she was returned to the U.S. Maritime Commission, decommissioned and simultaneously transferred to the Army Transportation Service.

USS Pinkney (APH–2) earned six battle stars during World War II. The second USS Pinkney was named for Ninian Pinkney who developed the field of surgery and medicine for the U.S. Navy.

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