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Lawrence Rowland speaks about the history of Petty Officer 1st Class William Pinckney at the Beaufort National Cemetery, Feb. 10. During the ceremony, a new headstone was unveiled which gave proper recognition to Pinckney's Navy Cross, the second highest award for valor. Pinckney was awarded the Navy Cross during World War II when he saved the life of an unconscious Sailor after a bomb exploded below the flight deck of their ship. At the time of the award, Pinckney was only the second African American in U.S. Navy history to receive the award.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Cristian Moreno

Beaufort recognizes Navy Cross recipient

15 Feb 2018 | Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort

A new headstone honoring Petty Officer 1st Class William Pinckney was unveiled at the Beaufort National Cemetery, Feb. 10.

            The new headstone gives Petty Officer Pinckney appropriate recognition for his Navy Cross, the second highest award for combat valor.

            “When I heard about the story of William Pinckney, what he had done, and when I saw his grave didn’t have the Navy Cross, I knew something had to be done,” said Lawrence Rowland, an emeritus professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. “After coordinating with the president of the rotary club, we had a new headstone in three weeks. So here we all are today to remember this naval hero.”

Pinckney was awarded the Navy Cross while serving aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier north of the Santa Cruz Islands Oct. 26, 1942. After a bomb exploded below the Enterprise’s flight deck, Pinckney, standing at his battle station in the ammunition handling room, was knocked unconscious. With several compartments completely wrecked and four of his five comrades killed, he regained consciousness, made his way through the burning and tangled wreckage to a point under an open hangar deck hatch. Just as he was about to escape he found a shipmate, the only other survivor of his party, and struggled up through the hatch. When the man fell unconscious, Pinckney lifted his comrade through the hatch to safety. Remarkably, after Pinckney had saved his fellow Sailor, he returned down through the hatch to search for more survivors.

Pinckney’s family members were in attendance along with the Beaufort Chapter of the Montford Point Marines, the Mayor of Beaufort, command representatives from MCAS Beaufort, MCRD Parris Island, and the Naval Hospital Beaufort, and many other organizations and members of the community. After the new headstone was unveiled, Taps was played to honor the memory of Pinckney.

“William Pinckney is a Naval Hero,” said Rowland. “Pinckney was only the second African American in U.S. Navy history to receive the Navy Cross for valor. He was ultimately one of only four African American Sailors to receive the award during World War II. In 2002, the USS William Pinckney was launched out of Mississippi. Even though William Pinckney passed many years ago, he is still influencing both the Navy and South Carolina.”

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