Soldiers & Sailors Hall observes Memorial Day

John J. Pinder Jr. served with valor.

The McKees Rocks native, a Butler High School graduate who later lived in Burgettstown, was a radio technician in World War II in the Army's 16th Infantry, one of the first infantry units to arrive at Omaha Beach for the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasions.

Through water, and under heavy fire, he carried an 80-pound radio from boat to shore, and was badly shot in the face and then in the legs. Three times, he returned to the water to salvage radio parts.

"He refused medical treatment. He was just intent on getting this radio working," said Michael Kraus, curator for Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland and creator of a newly unveiled exhibit about the Medal of Honor winner.

Pinder succeeded in his mission and then was killed, dying for his country on a French beach on his 32nd birthday.

His sacrifice, and the sacrifice of the many others who have served and died for their country, was honored Monday.

It was Memorial Day, a day off from school and from work for many, and a day set aside to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. At Soldiers & Sailors, the day has long been devoted to annual festivities.

"The museum was built for military veterans, for Civil War veterans specifically in 1910, but over the years, with all the conflicts we've had, it's evolved into a memorial that remembers and honors veterans from all branches of service, in all conflicts, in all eras," said John McCabe, president and CEO of the hall.

The day of honor started with a ceremony in remembrance of the 289 service members from Western Pennsylvania who have lost their lives in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and continued with patriotic music, children's activities and a drum corps performance.

Joe Nichols, a 71-year-old Richland resident and a former board member for Soldiers & Sailors, was there with his wife, Kisu. An Army veteran, Mr. Nichols served for 20 years until his retirement as a major in 1980. Most of his career, he served overseas, in Korea, Vietnam, Okinawa, Japan; and Berlin. In Vietnam, he commanded an infantry company that saw heavy combat and lost 10 men in 11 months.

Memorial Day, he said "is a time to reflect."

"It's a time to remember those guys that I lost in Vietnam, that were killed in my company," he said.

The Caruso family of Greenfield spent the morning at the Memorial Day parade in Lawrenceville and then came to Soldiers & Sailors. Jamie Caruso said she wants her children, Samantha, 7, and Henry, 6, to know about the sacrifices many families make. Their father, Michael Caruso, served in the Navy for more than two decades, including a year in Afghanistan, before retiring in 2011.

Memorial Day is a good time to "try to reinforce the importance of what this is all about," Mr. Caruso said.

People at the Soldiers & Sailors event were able to show their support for current members of the military by signing thank-you cards that will be sent overseas to men and women serving in Afghanistan by Operation Troop Appreciation, an organization headquartered in West Mifflin that will celebrate its 10th anniversary this summer.

Amanda Thompson, vice president of the group and a member of a military family herself, said Memorial Day is a reminder of the importance of remembering veterans.

"That's why it's such an important day, to remember all the guys and gals who didn't get to come home to their loved ones," she said.

John Pinder was one of them. Pinder, who had a career as a minor-league baseball player before he enlisted in the Army, participated in the Normandy invasion not knowing whether his brother, a B-24 bomber pilot, had survived being shot down, said Mr. Kraus, the curator.

Harold Pinder, though captured by the Germans, did survive. Before he died in 2008, he asked his family to give his brother's Medal of Honor to Soldiers & Sailors, Mr. Kraus said. The curator said the medal is one of only four given for action at D-Day.

"In my opinion, this is a national treasure," Mr. Kraus said.

A few days ago, he put the medal, as well as other artifacts from the Pinder family, on display in the Joseph A. Dugan Jr. Hall of Valor. Although Memorial Day this year has come to an end, the medal will remain on display for visitors to the museum.

Soldiers & Sailors is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@ or 412-263-1707. First Published May 26, 2014 1:31 PM

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