Journal-Times (Grayson, KY)

March 27, 2013

Glen Pinkston: Profile of a reluctant hero

By Leeann Akers - Editor
Journal-Times

March 27, 2013 — Glen Pinkston is a rare man.

Pinkston served on a B-17 bomber during World War II…but that isn’t what makes him rare.

The fact that he is a farm boy turned soldier and is a survivor of the war and still alive to tell the tale aren’t rarities either, at least not the most significant one.

No, Pinkston, unlike so many of the Greatest Generation that returned from WWII, actually wrote down his story and those with whom he worked during the 1940’s.

Glen Pinkston grew up on a farm near Nashville, Tenn. In January of 1943, he enlisted in the Army.

He was a volunteer, taking the place of one who might have otherwise been drafted.

At the time he had no interest in flying, but after being promised a position as a quartermaster, a post his WWI veteran father suggested, Pinkston found himself headed to flight training.

He began basic training in Miami, Fla., and moved on to other training bases in Mississippi, California, and Utah, ending with an assignment as a flight engineer on a B-17.

Although he was assigned to the top turret, he ended up flying the right waist.

Called the Flying Fortress, the four-engined B-17 had a crew of 10 or 11 men.

“All the time we trained we were planning to be sent to the South Pacific – and they sent us to Italy, so naturally everything worked out just fine,” Pinkston said with a grin in his home near Grayson.

“Vienna was the hardest target we went to with so much flak in the air. Some of them were milk runs, but not that one,” he recalled.

Pinkston explained the fear that he and his crewmates felt as they faced down flak – fire from the 88 mm guns used by German anti-aircraft units.

Pinkston remembers losing most of his crew on a mission in July of 1944.

“I was in the hospital with tonsillitis that day, and so was the radioman,” Pinkston said. “We sent up seven planes that day and lost all seven. We flew our last 19 missions on replacement crews.”

Pinkston said each time he returned, he knew he might not come back after the next mission.

“When we flew our final mission, I would have given anyone $1,000 to take my place, but there were no takers,” Pinkston said. “I never wanted to fly and I was ready to go by the end.”

Like many veterans of WWII, Pinkston never speaks about the details of war, focusing instead on the funny stories.

“I was flying with a replacement crew and the guy in the ball turret, the machinegun under the plane, would throw rocks through the hole and say, ‘take that you kraut sons-a-bitches!’” Pinkston said with a grin.

He likes to show off some of his prized possessions from the war. A “short snorter” which is money from various countries he visited tapped together and signed by the American men who spent them, a “peace pipe” that the men passed around before going on missions, and several dozen photographs, like the ones shown here.

Pinkston didn’t speak about the war at all until he was well into his 60s and didn’t considering recording his memories until after he turned 82.

“You don’t want to talk about it,” Pinkston said. “We were young and we thought we were invincible. Nothing would happen to us, always someone else. But we were right in the middle of it and we were lucky to be alive by the end.”

The friendship Pinkston had with the other soldiers led him to find a lifelong companion. After the war, he was stationed in Illinois with a man named John Cox. When he planned to travel home to Tennessee, Cox told Pinkston to stop by and say hello to his half-sister, Peggy Inez, at school in Nashville.

Six months later the two married and went on to have three children.

The couple moved to Grayson in 1987 to be near Peggy Inez’s mother, who lived in Olive Hill. And that is where they have stayed.

“There is a wonderful tranquility on this hill,” Peggy Inez said. “If we hear a car outside, either someone is coming to see us or they are lost.”

After 63 years of marriage, the couple has an easy way between them. Smiles and laughter fill their home with warmth, in spite of his dark memories of WWII.

In future issues of the Journal-Times, we will print excerpts from Pinkston’s memoirs.

Leeann Akers can be reached at lakers@journal-times.com or by phone at 474-5101.