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A Veteran’s Veteran — Remembering Don Kinnard

Photo: Don Kinnard (upper left) as a member of the Governor’s Advisory Council for Veterans in 2005. In the Viet Nam era (lower right), Kinnard was a member of the elite Navy Seals.

The Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Dunbar bears the name of a veteran’s veteran. While he worked tirelessly to establish the cemetery as Chairman of the West Virginia Veterans Cemetery Committee in the years preceding his death, Don Kinnard was a veteran’s veteran deserving of honor long before the movement to establish the cemetery was born. The following article, published in the November 10, 2005 issue of the Breeze tells the story of his service.

Don Kinnard, A Veteran’s Veteran
By Ron Allen

What does Veterans Day mean to a veteran’s veteran? Just locate a veteran’s veteran and ask him. That’s what the Breeze did. We asked Don Kinnard of Hurricane.

Don did not begin his military career with the intent of becoming a veteran’s veteran. He joined the Marine Corps on July 28, 1952, with one thing in mind — fighting. At the time, the Korean War was in full swing. He did serve in Korea, but not until 1954 when combat operations had largely ended.

What started as a fighting mission turned into a 22-year military career. After his tour with the Marines, Kinnard went into the Navy as a frogman. Shortly after the Navy Seals were commissioned in 1961, he became a member of this elite force.

As a member of Underwater Demolition Team 12 in Vietnam, Chief Kinnard saw plenty of action in the heat of enemy territory. His job was to search out the enemy, locate his structures and supplies and assess his capabilities.

On one occasion, under the cover of darkness and accompanied by about twenty mercenaries, Chief Kinnard located two enemy sampans (flat bottom boats) and opened fire, knocking out their motors and killing several men. Approximately nine of the enemy escaped into the night as the disabled sampans drifted downstream.

Chief Kinnard and his mercenaries turned their attention to the drifting sampans and set up an ambush 100 meters downstream. When the boats came near, Kinnard yelled, “La De!” The men in the sampan stood up and were greeted by deadly gunfire. The larger of the two sampans started to drift away. Kinnard swam to it and tied the bowline to a stump on the shore. Automatic weapons fire from the opposite shore rained near him but missed. His mercenaries returned fire, allowing him to scramble from the water.

More enemy gunfire hailed upon his group. This time from the left in the form of B-40 rockets, machine guns and AK-47 fire. For a period of time, the fire was so intense that he and his group were unable to return fire. The shrapnel from one rocket tore into his leg and foot, but failed to disable him.

When the barrage slowed, Kinnard and his men returned fire. Then, out of the blackness, a hand seized him from behind by the back of his neck, pulling him into the water. His assailant, welding a pistol, was every bit Kinnard’s size. The two struggled in the shallow water until Chief Kinnard found firm footing. Forcing the Vietnamese’s head below water, Kinnard was able to wrestle the pistol from him. At point blank range, the Vietnamese fell victim to his own weapon.

The exchange of gunfire continued into the night. Kinnard countered rocket and machine gun fire with grenades which he hurled at the enemy’s position. About midnight, the enemy rocket and machine gun fire fell silent but small arms fire continued until daybreak.

The dawn revealed the dead assailant to be a North Vietnamese Lt. Colonel. Papers found on the officer revealed that he was a ranking officer who was in the area to attend a planning conference. Four of the dead in the sampan were his staff officers. All told, daylight revealed 18 enemy dead. Supplies in the sampan included four AK-47’s, four pistols, 3,800 rounds of ammunition, one B-40 rocket launcher, three rockets, six radios, two sampan motors, spare parts, tools, clothing, uniforms, medicine and documents.
The documents gave crucial information on upcoming operations and the location of base camps and headquarters, and identity of undercover Viet Cong.

Chief Kinnard was awarded a purple heart and the Navy Cross. The Navy Cross is awarded to members of the Navy and Marine Corps who set themselves apart from their contemporaries in risking their lives in combat. It is the second highest honor that the United States bestows for combat heroism.

Kinnard has been an active member of the VFW for more than 25 years and has served as post commander of Mountaineer Post 9097 and as State Commander of the VFW. He is currently a member of the Governor’s Veterans Council.
He has participated in somewhere between thirty and forty Veterans Day ceremonies, counting the ones which he participated in while on active duty.

This Veterans Day, Friday, November 11, 2005, promises to be his most memorable as he will be in Clarksburg with Governor Manchin to participate in cornerstone laying ceremonies for a Veterans’ Nursing Home.

What does Veterans Day mean to Don Kinnard?

“It is a heart-touching day — a day on which the sacrifices of veterans, especially combat veterans are recognized,” he answered. “Civilians have not walked in the vet’s shoes. It is hard if you have not been there and experienced it to understand a lot of it,” he added.

Post Note:
Before his passing on February 14, 2009, Don Kinnard asked that his final resting place be at the new State Veterans Cemetery. The site for the State Veterans Cemetery was chosen in 2008, but development did not begin until a funding award of $14,118,456 was obtained from the US Department of Veterans Affairs in 2010.
The official dedication of the cemetery was held on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012. Don Kinnard was the first veteran to be interred in the cemetery.

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