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Medal of Honor Monday: Army Tech. 5th Grade John J. Pinder Jr.

June 6, 1944, was a monumental day for Army Technician 5th Grade John Joseph Pinder Jr. Aside from it being his 32nd birthday, it was also when he joined thousands of other Allied troops to storm the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day. Omaha Beach was hell on earth for soldiers that day, but Pinder carried out his mission with honor before succumbing to his many wounds. His valor earned him a posthumous Medal of Honor.  

A man poses for a photo.
Army Tech. 5th Grade Joe Pinder Jr.
Army Tech. 5th Grade Joe Pinder Jr., Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 240418-A-D0439-048

Pinder was born June 6, 1912, in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, to Laura Belle and John Pinder Sr. He had two younger siblings, Martha and Harold, and he went by his middle name, Joe.  

Pinder's father worked in the steel industry, which caused the family to relocate within the state a few times. Their first move was about a half-hour away, to Burgettstown, before relocating again about an hour north to Butler, where Pinder graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class in 1931.  

Pinder excelled at baseball and played in the minor leagues for about seven years. He was a pitcher in Georgia and Florida for farm teams that fed players to the New York Yankees, Washington Senators and Cleveland Indians. During his time in the South, Pinder met and got engaged to a woman named Ruby Gillian.  

Unfortunately, the two weren't able to marry before Pinder was drafted into the Army in January 1942. He was a radio operator assigned to the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.  

Later that year, the unit left for England where, in 1943, Pinder was able to meet up with his younger brother, known as Hal, who had also been drafted as a bomber pilot in the Army Air Corps. At that time, the brothers hadn't seen each other in two years, a 1945 Pittsburgh Press article said.  

Two men squat down beside each other for a photo. One has his hand on the other’s shoulder.
Brothers in Arms
Army Tech. 5th Grade Joe Pinder Jr., right, poses for a photo with his brother, Hal, a first lieutenant and bomber pilot, at an airfield in England in 1943.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 240418-O-D0439-079

While overseas, Joe Pinder took part in various combat campaigns, including those in Africa and Sicily, before being tapped to take part in D-Day — the biggest land, air and sea invasion in history that finally gave the Allies a foothold in Nazi Europe. By this time, Pinder had worked his way up to the rank of technician 5th grade, the equivalent of a corporal. 

On June 6, 1944, Pinder's unit was in the first wave of Allied troops to assault Colleville-sur-Mer — better known as Omaha Beach. Unfortunately, the Germans were ready for them and immediately began pummeling transport ships before troops were able to land near shore.  

An artillery shell landed near Pinder's boat and tore holes in it, killing some men immediately and causing chaos among those left inside. As the vessel began to fill with water, its ramp opened to let the men out about 100 yards offshore. Devasting machine gun and artillery fire rained down on them as they tried to wade their way to land in waist-deep water. Many were killed before they even got to shore. 

As Pinder struggled through the waves, he carried vitally important radio equipment on his shoulder — and back then, radios used in war weighed about 80 pounds. He was only a few yards from his boat when he was hit twice by enemy fire, with one hit tearing into the left side of his face. Witnesses said Pinder continued forward holding the equipment in one arm and the flesh from his face with the other hand.  

Dozens of men wade into waist-deep water toward a shore, as seen from a boat ramp.
Normandy Landing
U.S. soldiers disembark from a landing craft under heavy fire off the coast of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Photo By: National Archives
VIRIN: 440606-D-LX472-540C

Refusing to take cover or get medical attention, Pinder delivered the radio to the shore. He then turned around and went back into the fire-swept surf to gather more parts and equipment. He knew setting up communications was crucial to directing naval and air support that could take out the German installations decimating the shoreline. It was the only way they would survive the ordeal.  

Pinder ran back into the surf twice that day, despite the fierce pain he suffered. On the third trip, he was hit a few times by a machine gun, but he still refused to stop. He got back to the beach and helped troops set up the communications equipment before passing out from blood loss. He died later that day. 

Meanwhile, in January 1944, Pinder's pilot brother crashed in Belgium during a raid over Germany and was taken prisoner. Pinder had worried about his brother for months and never got to find out if he survived. Hal Pinder spent 14 months in a prisoner-of-war camp, which is where he learned of his older brother's death. He was finally released and sent home when the war ended.  

A man hands another man a medal in a box.
Medal Ceremony
Army Tech. 5th Grade John J. Pinder Jr.’s father receives the Medal of Honor on his son’s behalf from Maj. Gen. Philip Hayes on Jan. 26, 1945, during a ceremony at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore.
Photo By: Courtesy Photo
VIRIN: 240418-O-D0439-080

Of the five beaches on which the Allies landed on D-Day, Omaha Beach was the largest, and its troops suffered about 2,400 casualties — more than the other four beachfronts combined. Joe Pinder's bravery during the chaos served as huge inspiration for those who survived. 

For his valor, Pinder was awarded the Medal of Honor. Pinder's father received the honor on his son's behalf on Jan. 26, 1945, during a ceremony at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore. Pinder was one of 12 soldiers who took part in the D-Day landings to receive the nation's highest honor. Of the 12, nine received the award posthumously.  

Pinder was initially buried at a U.S. military cemetery in Normandy, but his family chose to bring him home in 1947. He now rests in Grandview Cemetery in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania, where a monument was dedicated to him in 2000. There's also a plaque dedicated to the fallen corporal at the McKees Rocks War Memorial. 

Pinder Barracks, a U.S. military post near Nuremberg, Germany, stood in his honor from 1945 to 1995. After it was torn down, the park that replaced it was named Pinder Park. 

Pinder's Medal of Honor was donated by his family to the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh, along with letters he wrote home and the contents of his wallet that were recovered in Normandy, according to a 2019 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article. The museum said Pinder's medal is part of its permanent collection, but it is currently on loan to the National Museum of the United States Army for the upcoming 80th commemoration of D-Day. 

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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