Sunday, May 27 , 2007

Finally close to Dad

12:00 AM CDT on Sunday, May 27, 2007

By MICHAEL E. YOUNG / The Dallas Morning News

In late 1943, with U.S. forces massing for the invasions of mainland Europe and new troops required in the South Pacific, draft boards turned to those who had largely been spared from combat: dads with young kids.

Jerry Pinkerton has a few mementos of his father,
including a bottle of beer he drank before shipping out.


Over the next year and a half, almost 1 million fathers – most between 18 and 35 – were inducted into the military.

While the number of those fathers killed is difficult to calculate, and the impact on their families impossible to gauge, estimates put the number of American war orphans at more than 200,000.

Jerry Pinkerton of Dallas was one of them.

And, perhaps, one of the more fortunate ones.

Some orphans were told nothing about their dads and had no contact with the father's family.

This Memorial Day weekend, a flight to the Philippines carried Mr. Pinkerton almost 8,500 miles and more than 60 years back and allowed him, finally, to say goodbye to the dad he barely remembers.

Mr. Pinkerton, 66, hopes the trip brings closure to his unanswered questions, but it won't end the pain.

"As I've gotten older, I've gotten more emotional about this," said the retired accountant and controller. "It isn't only about the loss of my father's life. My children had no grandfather."

'A vague recollection'

Mr. Pinkerton was 4 when Pfc. Ralph Clinton Pinkerton climbed aboard a troop train in the smoky bustle of a Fort Worth railway station and headed west.

Eventually, he boarded the USS Sea Snipe in San Francisco, sailed across the Pacific and landed at Leyte in the Philippines.

On May 10, 1945, the men of Company I, 108th Infantry Regiment, 40th Division scrambled across a beach at Mindanao, a wild, sparsely populated island where the Japanese were heavily entrenched. It was the regiment's job to clear them out.

Barely a month later, Pfc. Pinkerton was killed while providing protective fire for his retreating comrades. He died where he fell, his .30-caliber machine gun beside him.

He was 26, his wife and two young children at home in Texas, half a world away.

His daughter, Judy Graves, knows him through the recollections of others. Jerry Pinkerton retains only a few firsthand memories, flickering images like an old home movie.

"I remember going to the training station, the old Camp Wolters over in Mineral Wells when he was in basic training, and they played a bugle, and I remember all the soldiers standing up and saluting," he said.

"And I have a vague recollection of us at the station in Fort Worth when he boarded the train to leave."

Mr. Pinkerton traced a similar route by jumbo jet that took him to San Francisco and eventually to a U.S. military cemetery in Manila.

There, he stood by his father's grave site and spoke words of love – and loss.

Feeling all alone

The War Orphans' Educational Assistance Act of 1956 helped Jerry Pinkerton get a college education, a career and a comfortable life. But the government benefits couldn't begin to replace what he had lost.

His mother, Clodell, remarried four or five years after his father's death and had four more children.

"I had a stepfather, but we were never close," Mr. Pinkerton said. "I never had the opportunity to do any of those things a man does with a son.

"I never felt inferior because of it. But I never felt normal."

Back then, Mr. Pinkerton and the other war orphans thought no one else had ever felt like that.

Patricia Gaffney-Kindig, a former president of the American WWII Orphans Network, recalled her first contact with the group.

"It was a really stunning moment for me," she said. "I discovered all of my fellow war orphans grew up thinking we were the only ones."

And almost all have several things in common – the telegram telling the family of the father's death, the battered suitcase holding the father's personal effects and the "wall of silence."

"In most cases, these men were not talked about," Ms. Gaffney-Kindig said. "That's the way people dealt with their grief. We as children learned very quickly not to ask, not to make Mommy cry."

As for the children, "the prevailing psychology of the day was, 'They're young, they'll get over it,' " she said. "Now that we're in our 60s and 70s, we're starting to deal with it."

Ms. Gaffney-Kindig was fortunate in one respect. When she asked her mother questions about her dad, a fighter pilot who died before she was born, her mother would talk about him "with great reverence and respect."

As he grew up, Mr. Pinkerton turned to his family as well. His mother, his grandmother, his father's sisters all answered his questions as best they could.

"I learned quite a bit about him," he said. "He wasn't an educated man – he left school in about the eighth grade. He was mostly a laborer – a truck driver, a carpenter."

In the early stages of the war, he worked at what would become General Dynamics, building B-24s in Fort Worth.

Ralph Pinkerton knew hard work, but he also knew how to have fun when the opportunity came along.

A table in Jerry Pinkerton's North Dallas home serves as a memorial to his father. Included are a couple of photos – a wartime portrait of his dad in uniform and another showing the young Pinkerton family, Judy sitting wide-eyed in her daddy's arms and Jerry at his side.

Pfc. Pinkerton's Bronze Star and Purple Heart are nestled in their cases, and the flag that draped his casket sits folded in a presentation box. And in the midst of them, in a glass and wooden case, is an empty, unadorned beer bottle.

It dates to 1944, during Pfc. Pinkerton's brief leave between basic training and the train ride to California.

The Pinkertons visited family in Archer County, with Ralph helping his uncle, Bill Eustace, bring in the wheat harvest. One day, the men decided they'd like a beer, an idea their wives wouldn't fancy.

So they picked up six bottles, stashed them in a canvas water bag and, at day's end, enjoyed a cool one. One of Mr. Eustace's sons tossed the empties behind the barn. Years later, the son found three of the bottles still unbroken.

He gave one to Jerry Pinkerton – a bottle his father may have sipped from. Mr. Pinkerton calls it a family heirloom.

Piecing together the past

In April 1989, when he was 48, Jerry Pinkerton felt compelled to learn more about his father.

He knew his dad had died on Mindanao and been buried in the Philippines. Soon, he learned where – at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial.

That knowledge satisfied him for a while. But 10 years later, while dabbling in family genealogy, Mr. Pinkerton learned he could obtain his father's military records. The information was sketchy, but it opened the door.

A casual conversation with a relative led him to a man who had served in his father's unit. That led to another old soldier, then another, and in the end, Mr. Pinkerton had a pretty clear picture of his father's final days.

At a reunion of the 108th Regiment, Mr. Pinkerton met Edwin Dyer, and a medic, Wendell Ryder. Mr Dyer was part of the reconnaissance patrol the day Pfc. Pinkerton was killed. Mr. Ryder was the batallion medic that supervised the burial.

They'd gone out to recover the body of a soldier who'd died in an ambush. The unit's machine guns were ordered forward to provide cover.

"Everything was as quiet as could be because we knew somebody was out there somewhere," Mr. Dyer said. "All of a sudden, we were receiving fire from multiple [machine guns], any number of rifles, and mortar shells started raining down on us.

"Sorrowfully, some of the 4th Platoon gunners were hit," he said, Mr. Pinkerton's father among them.

The other soldiers rigged a stretcher and carried him out.

"As soon as we got back, we buried our buddies," Mr. Dyer said. "We dug shallow graves so when the recovery teams came to move the fallen men to a proper military cemetery, it would be easier."

So Mr. Pinkerton knew how his father died, and generally where, and that his fellow soldiers grieved his loss.

Ms. Gaffney-Kindig's fighter pilot father, Army 2nd Lt. George Philip Gaffney Jr., disappeared along the coast of New Guinea in March 1944.

Two weeks later, his wife received the telegram that her husband's plane was missing.

Ms. Gaffney-Kindig, who lives in Lakewood, Colo., and the children of other missing men were haunted by their fathers' fates.

"All of us used to think the same things: 'I think my father has amnesia and is looking for me,' or 'Maybe he's been captured by the villagers and couldn't escape,' " Ms. Gaffney-Kindig said.

"I remember seeing a young man in uniform on our street once, and I desperately wanted to go over and ask if he was my father. I lived for years with guilt for not saving him."

For generations to come

In 1985, she found the old suitcase that held her dad's things. Suddenly angry, she began throwing things out.

"I thought, 'Why am I keeping this? I don't know him. My kids don't know him,' " she said. "But I thought I should keep them just in case. And I kept some of the letters, like the one he wrote the night before he went missing.

"I read it, and I was thinking, 'Daddy, don't go, don't go!' "

Ultimately, with the help of teams recovering American flight crews killed around the world, Ms. Gaffney-Kindig learned where her father died and was able to bring his remains to the U.S. He's buried in Arlington National Cemetery, about 100 yards from her father-in-law, Maj. Earl Kindig.

The major had gone missing at about the same time, in about the same area, while piloting a small L4 plane. His son, Michael, never knew what happened to his dad.

But the people searching for Ms. Gaffney-Kindig's father had found the wreckage of an L4 before they found her dad's plane. It was the major's.

"I called Michael and said they already found his father's plane," she said. "Now his father and my father are buried about 100 yards apart."

She eventually met Michael, they fell in love, and now she proudly carries both last names in honor of the two men who were missing for so long. But the wounds never fully heal for these orphans.

"Being a grandfather myself," Mr. Pinkerton said, "I know my kids lost something special.

"And I know it will take generations before that loss totally works its way through, until it isn't there anymore."

© The Dallas Morning News


To round out the story of the beer bottle, here are a couple of pictures
not part of the original story, but which Jerry submitted to the AWON Website:


Jerry's Dad, PFC Ralph Clinton Pinkerton and his bottle.


The linking object.

Jerry in a follow later visit after finding another bottle.

Congratulations, Jerry!
With thanks for submitting the story and pictures
– in memory of PFC Ralph Clinton Pinkerton.