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.
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.
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.
We honor you, John Pritchard Jr.