Jack J. Pendleton of Yakima receives the Medal of Honor posthumously on March 15, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 9/25/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10927

On March 15, 1945, the Medal of Honor is awarded posthumously to Jack J. Pendleton (1918-1944) of Yakima, Washington. His mother, Dora Pendleton (1894-1949), receives the medal. His heroic actions cited in the Medal of Honor award took place on October 12, 1944, in the German town of Bardenberg. Staff Sergeant Pendleton volunteered to lead his squad in the attack on a well-positioned enemy machine gun that held up the advance into the town. His company could not move as the machine gun laid down deadly fire. Staff Sergeant Pendleton moved ahead of his squad and crawled toward the machine gun while under intense fire. He had managed to get within 10 yards of the position when the machine gun fire killed him. While the machine gunners turned their attention to Staff Sergeant Pendleton, another squad joined with Pendleton's squad and maneuvered unnoticed to a spot where they were able to take out the machine gun. Staff Sergeant Pendleton's attack saved the lives of his comrades and enabled them to advance into the town.

From Yakima to Europe

Jack Pendleton was born in Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. The family moved to Yakima in 1928. On Christmas Day, 1931, his father, Grover Pendleton (1892-1931), died. Jack and his older brother worked to support the family. Jack took a part-time job in a grocery store and worked in the orchards for the summer harvests. He completed grammar school, but because he had to work full time, he was unable to complete high school. In 1942 he moved to northeast California with his brother Kenneth (1915-1974) to work in a sawmill.

Jack Pendleton joined the army on July 7, 1942, and took his basic training at Fort Lewis. Following basic training he was assigned to Camp White, Medford, Oregon, where he served as a receptionist in the headquarters. When the Women's Army Corps personnel arrived to replace the men in administrative roles, he was sent to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana, for advanced infantry training. He excelled in the infantry role and quickly rose in rank. When he shipped out with the 30th Infantry Division in 1944 for Europe, he was a staff sergeant.

Giving His Life to Save Others

Staff Sergeant Pendleton served in Company I, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division. On October 12, 1944, Company I was advancing into the town of Bardenberg, Germany. They advanced about two-thirds of the way through the town when intense fire from enemy machine guns pinned them down. The enemy strongpoint was protected by one machine gun, strategically located at an intersection and firing down a street. The company could not move until it was destroyed. They made repeated and unsuccessful efforts to take out the machine gun.

Staff Sergeant Pendleton volunteered to lead his squad in an effort to neutralize the enemy position. He crawled on the ground ahead of his squad but found little cover. After crawling about 130 yards he was seriously wounded in the leg. Despite his wound, he single-handedly moved forward with hand grenades. Staff Sergeant Pendleton got within 10 yards when the enemy machine gun fired at him and killed him. While Staff Sergeant Pendleton was attacking the machine gun position, a second squad joined Pendleton's squad. The two squads took advantage of the enemy fire directed at Staff Sergeant Pendleton and maneuvered into a spot where they were able to destroy the gun.

Staff Sergeant Pendleton's heroism enabled his company to advance through the town, and saved many lives. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exceptional valor. The Medal of Honor was awarded posthumously on March 15, 1945, to his mother, Dora Pendleton. The honor of receiving the first Gold Star Button issued in the state went to Dora Pendleton on Memorial Day, 1948. Governor Mon Wallgren (1891-1961) presented the Gold Star lapel button to Mrs. Pendleton at an Olympia ceremony. She proudly wore it to honor her son who gave his life in the war.

Remembering Staff Sergeant Jack Pendleton

Staff Sergeant Pendleton was buried in the Henri Chappelle Cemetery in Belgium. In October 1947, his body was returned to the United States to its final resting place in the Tahoma Cemetery in Yakima. On November 11, 2013, a section of A Street, Yakima, was renamed S Sgt Pendleton Way to honor the only Medal of Honor recipient from Yakima. A main street on Joint Base Lewis-McChord is also named for this Washington hero.

In 1948 a merchant ship was transferred to the United States Army and renamed the Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton. It was a World War II victory ship built at Portland, Oregon, that was upgraded for use as an army transport. After 18 months of army service, it went to the navy for sealift duties.

While on an arctic mission to Alaska in July 1956, crewmember Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) used its mimeograph machine to publish a 22-page book of poetry. He printed 52 copies and gave them to friends.

The Sgt. Jack J. Pendleton supported the military in World War II, Korea, the Cold War, and Vietnam. It met its end in the South China Sea when it ran aground on a reef on September 23, 1973. Efforts to recover the ship failed.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men Of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); "Medal of Honor To Yakima Hero," The Seattle Daily Times, March 15, 1945, p. 7; "Bodies of 110 Northwest Servicemen Arrive in New York on Army Transport," Oregonian, October 26, 1947, p. 14; "First Gold Star in State," The Seattle Daily Times, June 1, 1948, p. 19; "Army To Name Ship After Yakima G.I.," Tri-City Herald, Pasco, August 4, 1948, p. 3.

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