By Bill Roser Jr.
The Bronze Star is a military medal awarded for acts of heroism in combat.
U.S. Army Specialist Patrick Pinkerton, 65, of Medina Township, earned his Bronze Star in a fierce firefight during the Tet Offensive on Feb. 11 to 12, 1968.
Exactly what he did is spelled out in the certificate that accompanies his medal:
“Specialist Pinkerton and his battalion were performing a search and destroy mission when they came under intense enemy small arms and automatic weapons fire. He established a secure machinegun position and provided accurate and deadly fire on enemy positions. His continuous directed fire allowed helicopters to evacuate casualties and wounded solders and provide direct aerial fire to silence the enemy.”
But Pinkerton didn’t receive his Bronze Star four decades ago. He was among 13 Ohio veterans honored Aug. 12 at ceremonies before the Akron Aeros game at Canal Park.
Some of the veterans got duplicates of medals they had lost.
But others, such as Pinkerton, received belated medals they should have been awarded years earlier.
Some blame it on the proverbial “fog of war.”
Pinkerton has a more simple explanation: “The officers didn’t seem to want to get involved with paperwork.”
The details of the firefight during the Tet Offensive are sharply etched in Pinkerton’s memory.
After basic training at Fort Benning, Ga., followed by advanced military training in guerilla warfare at Fort Polk, La., Pinkerton shipped out to Vietnam as a member of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division.
“We were on a search-and-destroy mission, and our two point men got caught in a crossfire about 20 yards in front of me, and they both got shot in the arms,” Pinkerton said. “They hit the ground and started crawling back.”
Pinkerton took cover behind a giant 6-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide ant hill.
“Well, I say the Lord provided me an ant hill,” he said. “I immediately got down in the back of the ant hill and set up the machine gun position.”
Pinkerton returned evasive fire so the two point men could crawl back to safety.
Pinkerton explained that you can only fire an M60 machine gun for about 20 seconds before the barrel gets so hot you have to stop and let it cool for another 20 seconds.
“As soon as I stopped shooting, one round came over my left shoulder,” he said. “I turned around, here’s my ammo bearer, Ralph Reid, shot dead right through the heart.”
Pinkerton continued to fire as medics struggled to get the three wounded men and Reid’s body to a clearing where they were picked up by a medical evacuation helicopter.
When a helicopter gunship arrived, Pinkerton said he fired tracer bullets directly into the enemy’s position to mark the spot.
The gunship opened up. After the shooting stopped, 16 enemy dead were counted.
Pinkerton, the chaplain and former post commander of the Medina Veterans of Foreign Wars, attended reunions with his old unit. It was at a reunion about three years ago that he decided to research the operations he and his comrades had been involved in.
Pinkerton followed up with some painstaking research at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. With the help of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office, he was able to document his actions during the firefight that earned the Bronze Star.
Now Pinkerton is working to get recognition for others in his unit.
So far he had submitted documentation supporting the award of the Army Flight Medal for about 17 men who participated in the rescue of a helicopter crew.
“We landed in helicopters and protected them,” he said. “We stayed all night with them.”
Pinkerton also is working for getting the Army Commendation Medal for members of his company who participated in a night ambush that killed a member of the Viet Cong who was extorting money from villages.
“He had a big satchel full of South Vietnamese money and names,” he said. “He was the Viet Cong tax collector of that area.”
Pinkerton also sought to honor Reid, his ammo bearer who was killed in the firefight.
When Pinkerton heard that Reid had never been given a military funeral, he took care of the paperwork and arranged the services.
At the request of the Reid’s family, Pinkerton also gave the eulogy.
Contact Bill Roser Jr. at email@example.com.