Destroyer Named for Low Country Native - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

06/25/03

Destroyer Named for Low Country Native

USS Pinckney USS Pinckney

Low Country native William Pinckney's name will live on as the Navy bestows its highest honor. Pinckney was a hero during World War II and the Navy named a brand new destroyer after him. Now its crew wants to know more about their ship's namesake.

WTOC tagged along with a half dozen sailors as they talked to Pinckney's wife today on Lady's Island.  Being a cook and being African-American were not the likeliest traits for high honor in the Navy 60 years ago, but Pinckney's actions earned him a Navy Cross, meaning he's got a $1.2 billion ship named after him.

"He never talked about the Navy," said his wife, Henrietta. "When he starts talking he starts crying. He gets so full."

Even if William Pinckney hadn't died in 1976, he still wouldn't be the type of man to talk too much about his heroics during World War II. So the crew of a brand new destroyer named after him came to the to find out for themselves what he was like.

"There's a lot of questions the crew, and sailors that follow, the crew will want to know about the man," said Cdr. Bob Byron.

"It's an honor to serve on the USS Pinckney," said MSC Dwight Mercer, the new ships head cook.

What exactly did a black cook on a huge ship do to garner such accolade? During the Battle of Santa Cruz, he and several sailors were injured during an explosion. Despite third degree burns, Pinckney carried one of his shipmates to safety, through the worst of the fire.

In WW II, only four African Americans were awarded the Navy Cross. The other three have had ships named after them already. Now William Pinckney has his. So far, there's just one steadfast rule for the cook on a ship named after a cook:

"Only thing he doesn't like is beets," Henrietta Pinckney told us.

"He didn't like beets, our commanding officer doesn't like beets, and his wife doesn't like beets. So beets will not be on the menu," promised Mercer.

The sailors will be in town tomorrow as well. They're hoping to find out as much about Pinckney as possible, from what baseball teams he followed to his favorite music, which is jazz.

Chris Cowperthwaite, ccowperthwaite@wtoc.com

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