Army radio operator from Pittsburgh received Medal of Honor for D-Day bravery

Jun. 6—John J. Pinder, Jr. landed on D-Day 77 years ago Sunday — June 6, 1944.

Before he made it off the boat in Normandy, France a piece of a bullet shell took a hunk of skin out of his face.

As he held his left cheek in place, the Army technician fifth grade proceeded to storm the beach.

He was shot in both legs.

When asked if he wanted medical attention, Pinder said "no."

His radio was broken. He was on a mission to search out parts so he could get it working again and his fellow servicemen and women could stay in contact.

With his broken radio and replacement pieces in hand, he was shot in the head by a sniper.

Pinder died right there.

It was his birthday. He was 32.

He received the Medal of Honor, presented by Congress, for his bravery. That medal is displayed in the Hall of Valor at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh's Oakland section.

"There were big ships off shore with big guns that needed the coordinates to know what was happening on shore," said Michael Kraus, curator and historian for Soldiers & Sailors. "As a radio operator, he was their communication link, and he knew it."

Pinder also knew there were radio parts on the beach from fallen soldiers. Maybe he was looking for an antenna or another important piece, Kraus said.

"He was a true hero," Kraus said.

There are seven Medal of Honors housed inside the Hall of Valor. The hall honors veterans, living and dead. Inductees qualify for the Hall of Valor by being the recipient of medals such as the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross.

On the Congressional Medal of Honor Society's website, it reads: "John Pinder received the medal for 'conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France.'"

Prior to entering the service, Pinder was a professional baseball player for a Cleveland farm league, Kraus said. He was born in McKees Rocks, then moved to Butler. Pinder was a pitcher who played high school ball at Butler.

He is the only professional baseball player Medal of Honor recipient, Kraus said. He is buried in Grand View Cemetery in Burgettstown.

He knew the danger the day he was killed, but he also knew the importance of a radio operator in combat. He knew they needed at least one working radio on Omaha Beach where he landed.

His radio was damaged either by the boat voyage or gunfire, Kraus said.

Pinder is one of four men to receive the Medal of Honor for the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, Kraus said.

"That is a huge honor," Kraus said.

John Pinder was carrying a radio in waist-deep water when he landed 100 yards offshore.

"He was gravely wounded," according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The website said "Technician Fifth Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio. Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician Fifth Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on three occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment.

"He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the third trip he was again hit, suffering machine-gun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communications on the beach."

"The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician Fifth Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served," according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Pinder's younger brother, Harold "Hal" Pinder, was a B-17 pilot. His plane went missing in 1943. Harold Pinder was in a German POW camp.

His family received John Pinder's medal and donated it to Solders & Sailors, Kraus said.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, or via Twitter .