Coast Guard Aviator No. 82
John A. Pritchard, Jr., was born on 12 January 1914 at Redfield, South Dakota. He graduated from Beverly Hills High School, California, in 1931 and continued with a postgraduate course the following term. Meanwhile he was employed as a district collector for the Los Angeles Times newspaper.
Searching for a career, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy from 1 March 1932 until 17 August 1934. While attending the Naval Academy Prep School, he was honorably discharged in order for him to accept an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on 20 August 1934. He graduated from the Academy on 2 June 1938. His Coast Guard Academy yearbook Tide Rips entry noted:
Before you is a product of the fair state of California--a person whose disposition bears out the reputation of that state for sunshine. . .An ex-Navy man, John is famous for his washroom "Laundry." Radio, one of John's passions, led him into trouble with a record of losing one radio a week for two consecutive weeks. "It only cost twenty spots, fellows, and think of all the times I didn't get caught." We'll miss Pritch's toothy smiles and his twinkling eyes and above all the never ending "Good morning, George. Beautiful day, isn't it?"
His first assignment as a commissioned officer was as a line officer on board the Coast Guard Cutter Haida on the Bering Sea Patrol. He then entered flight training at the Naval Air Training Center at Pensacola, Florida in August 1940 and graduated with the designation of Coast Guard Aviator No. 82 on 15 February 1941. He then reported for duty at Coast Guard Air Station Miami. He was promoted to Lieutenant (jg) on 2 June 1941.
In February 1942 he was temporarily assigned as the aviation officer aboard CGC Northland on the war-time Greenland Patrol. After returning to Air Station Miami for a brief period, rejoined the Northland. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 15 June 1942. While with Northland only a short time, Pritchard performed his first heroic rescue on 23 November 1942, only a few days before another daring rescue was to take his life. This first rescue involved saving three members of the Royal Canadian Air Force who had been stranded on the Greenland ice cap for 13 days. He was posthumously awarded the Navy & Marine Corps Medal for this rescue. Five days later he volunteered to attempt the rescue of the crew of a B-17 that had crashed on the treacherous ice cap on the west side of Greenland, about 40 miles from Comanche Bay, using Northland's J2F-4 Grumman amphibian. Accompanied by Radioman First Class Benjamin A. Bottoms, they landed near the crash site without mishap, the first successful landing on the 2,000 foot ice cap. After recovering two injured survivors, Pritchard and Bottoms took off safely and returned to Northland. They volunteered to fly out to the crash site again the following day, 29 November. After again landing safely and recovering another survivor, they took off but were never heard from again. The wreckage of their amphibian was later spotted from the air but a rescue party could get no closer than 6 miles. LT Pritchard was declared as missing in action as of 29 November 1942 and was declared dead as of 30 November 1943. For his heroism on this last rescue he was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the time of his death he left behind his mother and father.
In addition to the Navy & Marine Corps Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross, LT Pritchard had earned the American Defense Service Medal with Sea Clasp, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.
LT Pritchard's classmate, VADM Thomas R. Sargent, III, USCG (Ret.), remembered Pritchard as:
. . .not only my Classmate but he was my room mate for our last year at the Academy. . .John was unique--he was the happiest man I have ever known. At reveille, he would practically jump out of his bunk and, in spite of rain, snow or darkness, he would say "Good morning Tom, what a great day" and break out in song. He had a good singing voice and his favorite rendition was "The Grandfather's Clock"-he knew all the verses. At first, starting the day like this was a little wearing but, his enthusiasm for life was so infectious, I actually looked forward to reveille!!! John was an outstanding seaman and a Coast Guardsman of the highest order. During that last year at the Academy, we became as close as brothers but, unfortunately, after graduation, I never saw him again. I received word of his death while I was Commanding Officer of the USS PC-469 based in Trinidad--[his death] was a real shock to me. The man with the incredible zest for life was gone. He was our only war casualty [Class of 1938]. At Coast Guard Air Station Mobile there is a barracks and BOQ called the Pritchard-Bottoms Hall and I had the great privilege of presiding at the dedication in 1971. John and RM1c Benjamin Bottoms were kindred spirits so the building, housing both enlisted men and officers, is very aptly named. John's mother attended and unveiled the dedication plaque. The last words of the chorus of John's song are "and the clock stopped, never to run again when the old man died." John, the clock stopped too soon for you.
VADM Thomas R. Sargent, III, USCG (Ret.); as printed in the April 2008 of the Academy Alumni Association The Bulletin.
|photographs:||ORIGINAL CAPTION, DATE, PHOTO NUMBER & PHOTOGRAPHER (IF KNOWN):|
|Official portrait of First Class Cadet John A. Pritchard, Tide Rips, 1938.|
|Official portrait of LT John A. Pritchard, USCG.|
|"United States Coast Guard Aviator (Certificate) United States Treasury Department"; cover|
|"United States Coast Guard Aviator (Certificate) United States Treasury Department"|
|Misc IDs (Navy, etc.)|
|Official Caption: "COAST GUARD RESCUE IN GREENLAND: Ready for the job. . .Coast Guard Lieutenant John A. Pritchard, Jr., stands alert as his plane is readied aboard the Coast Guard cutter. His heavy clothing stood him in good stead, when, after landing his aircraft, he was forced to trudge four miles over the icy terrain to reach the Army fliers, all of whom were suffering intensely from cold and hunger." Photo No. 06-19-43 (02).|
|Official Caption: "THE TAKE OFF: The Coast Guard amphibian plane has been put over the side, and Lieutenant John A. Pritchard, Jr. and Radioman Benjamin A. Bottoms; ready for the take-off, scan the Greenland icebergs over which they have spent so many hours of hazardous flying in their single-engined plane. They successfully rescued two of the U.S. Army fliers and met their death in an attempt to rescue the third flier." Photo No. 06-19-43 (03).|