Friday | November 17, 2017
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East Hawaii Marine veteran reflects on those lost in battle

In 1962, Leslie Pinnow was just a few papers away from buying a home.

The Marine had been married about three years to his young wife, Oahu native Norma Pinnow. The two were living in Oceanside, Calif., near where he was stationed. They also recently had purchased a new car.

That’s when duty called.

“Just as I was going to the bank to pick up (paperwork) to buy the home, a Marine (official) drives up in a jeep,” Pinnow, now 84, recalled Friday. “And he told me I had to go to Vietnam.”

Pinnow soon had to cancel the house transaction and leave his wife, who returned to Hawaii. He told her he was being stationed in the Mediterranean because he wasn’t allowed to disclose where he was actually going.

Pinnow served in the Vietnam War as part of the 1st Marine Division. He said he was discharged after about two months because of a medical condition. Pinnow also is a Korean War veteran who served more than two years, including with a machine-gun infantry unit stationed near the 38th parallel.

On Thursday, two days before Veterans Day, he was among dozens of Big Island veterans who were honored during a ceremony in Hilo in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War. For Pinnow, the occasion was highly emotional — it brought back memories of his time at war. He said he also saw many former comrades at the ceremony, some he hadn’t seen in years.

He said he lost many friends during both wars. Some died during battle and others years later, including from illnesses caused by exposure to Agent Orange.

“I was lucky,” Pinnow said Friday, tearing up. “They never came back. I miss those who are gone.”

Pinnow is an East Hawaii native who joined the Marines at age 19 because he “wanted to leave home” and “didn’t want to wait until they drafted me.” He pushed to get stationed in Korea, where other young Marines from Hawaii were headed.

“I wanted to go where all the Hawaii boys were going,” he said.

He fondly recalls singing Hawaiian songs with his fellow troops on the voyage to Korea.

Pinnow served a total of nine years in the Marines. In addition to his war service, Pinnow was stationed in the Philippines for several years and also had assignments at Camp H.M. Smith on Oahu and Camp Pendleton in California.

He had a variety of jobs throughout East Hawaii after being discharged and has three children and six grandchildren. He and his wife say Veterans Day is a chance to honor those who served, particularly those who never came home.

“We want to let people know they should be proud of our veterans who protected the country,” Norma Pinnow said. “It’s important to us.”

“(In the military) you meet a lot of people and they become just like your brothers and sisters,” Leslie Pinnow added. “You’re like a family.”

“For me (it was) a chance to serve my country.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at


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