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Freedom Rings: ‘Honored to have served’

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Second Lieutenant Charles Pinkston

By Don Hall

News-Leader staff

“You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States…”

If you are a man who turned 18 before 1973, then you probably recognize that sentence—it was how a draft notice began.

When Charles Pinkston graduated from college with an engineering degree in 1968, he found out he was being drafted. He could go into the Army for two years, or he could enlist in another branch for a longer “hitch.” 

The Marine Corps offered Pinkston a commission as an officer if he would sign up for six years. Pinkston became a Marine.

“Going in, I didn’t know what to expect,” Pinkston says. “From the moment I stepped off the bus at boot camp until I graduated from Officer Candidate School, I had a drill instructor screaming in my face.”

Pinkston’s family moved to Nashville from Mobile, Ala., when he was in the fifth grade; and he still holds high school football records from his days as a Scrapper. 

He went on to play two years of football at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and then two years at Louisiana Tech (he was on the team there with Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and with pro football’s Terry Bradshaw). Then came the Marines.

“Being at Officer Candidate School in Quantico, we were expected to be the best.” Upon completion of OCS, Second Lieutenant Pinkston was transferred to Camp Lejeune, N.C., where he became an S-1 Administrative Officer with the 2nd Battalion, 10th Marines. 

Pinkston went from Lejeune to Viet Nam, back to Lejeune, on to Guantanamo in Cuba, and finally back to Lejeune. He served in the Marine Corps until 1974, leaving with the rank of captain.

When he had graduated from college and before he joined the Marines, Pinkston had been offered an engineering job with the construction company Brown & Root. When he rejoined the civilian ranks in 1974, Brown & Root renewed its offer. Pinkston spent the next decades working for Brown & Root, building coal-fired power plants from Louisiana to Indiana to Florida. 

In 2007 he moved back to Nashville, working for the last 15 years as a school bus driver. If your children or grandchildren have ridden a school bus to an extra-curricular activity since 2007, chances are that they know “Mr. Charley,” the bus driver.

In a recent interview with Pinkston, his cell phone rang. 

The ring tone? Why, the Marine Corps Hymn, of course. “I am a Marine through and through,” Pinkston explains. “I wouldn’t ever try to talk anyone into joining the Marine Corps—that’s something that they have to decide to do on their own—but everyone who goes into the Corps comes out with something to be proud of. They have honor.”

Pinkston owns a full set of flags representing all five branches of the Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard) and a flag honoring and remembering prisoners of war. If you’ve attended Stand Up for America in the Nashville City Park, then you’ve seen the presentation with Pinkston’ flags. For some reason, he always seems to be the one holding the Marine Corps’ flag.

“I am honored to have served,” Pinkston says. “I went through a lot and I’m proud of it. I’m proud to be a Marine and a Scrapper.”

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