Navy Cook Third Class William Pinckney
USS PINCKNEY is named after Navy Cook Third Class William Pinckney,
(1915-1975), recipient of 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.
Bill, or ‘Bags’ to his friends, was a quiet man. If
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.
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
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
USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the Battle of Santa CruzDuring 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
When asked about returning into the fire after saving Bagwell, all he
would say is,“ Yeh, I guess that’s about right.
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
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
Mrs. Henrietta PinckneyHe 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
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
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
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
ship. You can already see on the faces of every Sailor in the current
crew that they have assumed ‘Bags’ quiet modesty
and will always be, ‘Proud To Serve’.