Second Lieutenant David Wills Pinkerton, Jr.

David Pinkerton, date unknown.
David Pinkerton, date unknown.

Photo from Marilyn Clare Symons family tree.


Insignia of VMF-221, The Fighting Falcons

Service Number: O-007535

Birth and Early Life:
David Pinkerton was born on May 7, 1918; he was the son of David and Jeanette Pinkerton of Toledo, Ohio. The Pinkertons moved to Richmond, Indiana; David graduated from Morton High School in 1936, and was accepted to Duke University.

After two years at Duke, Pinkerton transferred to the University of Michigan to study mathematics; he completed his senior year and received his BA from the University of Florida in 1940.

Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Pinkerton enlisted in the fall of 1940; he traveled to Miami and applied to flight training. He passed through aviator’s elimination training and nearly a year of flight school before being awarded his wings and a commission as a second lieutenant.

Wartime Service:
Lieutenant Pinkerton boarded the USS Thornton in January 1942, and sailed for the island of Midway, where he joined fighter squadron VMF-221.

On March 1, 1942, Lieutenant Pinkerton was one of the Fighting Falcons chosen to form the basis of a brand new squadron, VMF-222, which was officially created on Eastern Island – right next door to Midway. (1) The new squadron’s war diary admitted that, “inasmuch as VMF-221 had seven of the same type airplanes [F2A-3 Brewster Buffalo] it was further agreed that both squadrons would operate as one but would remain separated as far as possible in regards to administration.” (2) The training regimen followed that established by VMF-221. In April, 222 was gutted, with all but two of its pilots sent to VMF-221 on the main island of Midway.

Upon rejoining VMF-221, Pinkerton was placed in the First Division, under squadron commander Major Floyd Parks. His wingman was another second lieutenant, Charles Hughes.

Date Of Loss:
Lieutenant Pinkerton was at the controls of the squadron’s Buffalo MF-5 (Bureau Number 01569) on the morning of June 4, 1942. He was accustomed to getting up and eating before dawn, as the pilots were expected to fly morning patrols, but this morning was different. Reports of an armada of Japanese aircraft approaching Midway were pouring in, and the Marines revved up their engines and took to the sky, following Major Parks on an intercept course.

The squadron had not yet reached their planned altitude when Lieutenant Hughes, Pinkerton’s wingman, developed serious engine trouble. Deciding it would be “suicide” to take his sputtering aircraft into an engagement where the Americans were already at a disadvantage, Hughes reluctantly pulled out of the formation and returned to Midway. Pinkerton was left to fly on with noone to guard his tail.

David Pinkerton, along with every other man in his division (save for Hughes) was never seen again. Twenty Marines engaged over 100 Japanese fighters in superior machines; no amount of gallantry could overcome those odds, and those who survived did so thanks more to luck than any other factor.

Lieutenant Pinkerton was awarded a Navy Cross for his part in the battle.

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Second Lieutenant David W. Pinkerton, Jr. (MCSN: 0-7535), United States Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron TWO HUNDRED TWENTY-ONE (VMF-221), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. Delivering a dauntless and aggressive attack against a vastly superior number of Japanese bomber and fighter planes, Second Lieutenant Pinkerton aided in disrupting the plans of the enemy and lessening the effectiveness of their attack, thereby contributing materially to the success of our forces. As a result of his courageous and daring tactics and because of the circumstances attendant upon this engagement, there can be little doubt that Second Lieutenant Pinkerton gallantly gave up his life in the service of his country. He displayed the characteristics of an excellent airman in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Next Of Kin:
Father, Mr. David Pinkerton Sr.

Status Of Remains:
Lost at sea.

Tablets of the Missing, National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.
(1) Another VMF-221 pilot, Second Lieutenant Walter Swansberger, would also be temporarily assigned to the new squadron, but was returned to 221 prior to the battle. This would prove a fatal decision, as Swansberger did not survive.
(2) VMF-222 War Diary, March 1942.

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