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One last hug: James Pinkerton's final mission

CAMBRIDGE AMERICAN CEMETERY, England - James Pinkerton, 87-year-old Purple Heart veteran of World War II, visits his brother’s grave at Cambridge American Cemetery, May 19, 2011. Pinkerton had not seen his brother in more than 50 years, since the two joined the Army during WWII and Pinkerton deployed to serve in the Pacific. His brother served in Europe and was laid to rest in Cambridge, England. (Courtesy photo)

CAMBRIDGE AMERICAN CEMETERY, England - James Pinkerton, 87-year-old Purple Heart veteran of World War II, visits his brother’s grave at Cambridge American Cemetery, May 19, 2011. Pinkerton had not seen his brother in more than 50 years, since the two joined the Army during World War II and Pinkerton deployed to serve in the Pacific. His brother served in Europe and was laid to rest in Cambridge, England. (Courtesy photo)

CAMBRIDGE AMERICAN CEMETERY, England - James Pinkerton, 87-year-old Purple Heart veteran of World War II, stands by his brother’s grave at Cambridge American Cemetery, May 19, 2011. Pinkerton visited his brother’s headstone to say a long-awaited ‘hello,’ and final ‘good bye.’ (Courtesy photo)

CAMBRIDGE AMERICAN CEMETERY, England - James Pinkerton, 87-year-old Purple Heart veteran of World War II, stands by his brother’s grave at Cambridge American Cemetery, May 19, 2011. Pinkerton visited his brother’s headstone to say a long-awaited ‘hello,’ and final ‘good bye.’ (Courtesy photo)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Grasping a fist full of Pounds Sterling, 87-year-old James Pinkerton hailed a taxi outside London Heathrow Airport, insisting the driver bring him directly to the Cambridge American Cemetery by the quickest and most-direct route.

It had been more than 50 years since Pinkerton, a Purple Heart veteran, executed orders and undertook missions supporting the 11th Airborne Division during World War II. Still, according to the taxi driver and cemetery staff, Pinkerton was definitely a man on a mission May 19.

According to conversations he had with Michael Green, Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial superintendent, Pinkerton actually served in the Pacific theater during WWII. However, his brother served in Europe and Cambridge was his final resting place.

Green has spent 14 years working at American Cemeteries and Memorials and said its people like Pinkerton who continue to move, inspire and make him feel blessed.

"On this day [Pinkerton] was on one last important mission - to visit his brother who is forever on duty at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial," said Green, a former Marine. "He grew up with his brother, joined the military at the same time as his brother, and had not seen his brother since they both went off to defend our country."

Green recalled the emotional scene when Pinkerton finally reached his brother's headstone to say a long-awaited 'hello,' and final 'good bye.'

"We arrived at his brother's marble headstone and [Pinkerton] gently rubbed the sand while explaining that the sand comes from Omaha Beach, [Normandy, France]," said Green.

Soon after, Pinkerton placed British and American flags on his brother's headstone, then rose to his feet for the playing of taps.

"As soon as taps was over, he bent down and hugged his brother's headstone with an embrace that showed how much he loved his brother," said Green. "As I wiped the tear from my eye, he stood up and spoke to his brother, saying, 'I forgive you for socking me in the throat when we were kids.' It was as though he needed to let his brother know he was forgiven."

That very day and with his taxi still waiting, Pinkerton set off back to London without even having made a hotel reservation.

Worried that at 87, Pinkerton may be too weary to find his own hotel in London, the cemetery staff arranged a hotel outside the airport and assisted in changing his flight itinerary.

"Mr. Pinkerton arrived home safely," said Green, explaining that the cab driver had taken his telephone number and called him in Columbus, Ohio, the next day to confirm he made it home.

Though Pinkerton came to England on a solo-mission, his compelling tale inspired many people whom then stepped up as his wingmen, ensuring the final stages of his mission were completed safely.