Hero lost in World War II honored
NEW LONDON, Conn. — A World War II pilot whose lost plane has become the target of a stepped-up U.S. recovery effort in Greenland was honored Friday by the Coast Guard Academy, which commended him for heroism shown during daring rescue missions on the frozen tundra before the one that killed him in 1942.
The pilot, Lt. John Pritchard, was inducted into the Hall of Heroes at the academy in New London, where he graduated in 1938.
“John was a very friendly, caring person,” said his sister, Nancy Pritchard Morgan, 91, who received an ovation from cadets. “He loved his family, he loved the Coast Guard, he loved flying, he loved life. His actions on the Greenland ice cap read like his whole life.”
Pritchard was trying to save a man stranded on the tundra by the crash of a B-17 when his own single-engine Grumman Duck plane went down in whiteout conditions.
Recently discovered evidence of the wreckage, which is entombed in a glacier, has prompted several missions in recent years, including one by the Joint Personnel POW/MIA Accounting Command. The plane may hold the remains of the Coast Guard’s last two MIA service members: Pritchard and his radioman, Petty Officer 1st Class Benjamin Bottoms.
Pritchard, a California native, was assigned to a cutter conducting war-time patrols in the waters off Greenland when the U.S. Army Air Forces B-17 crashed on the ice cap during a search mission. The crew survived but was marooned on the tundra. Pritchard launched his amphibious plane from the cutter’s deck, landed on the ice cap and returned with two of the injured survivors. It was the first successful landing on the ice cap, the Coast Guard said.
The next day, Nov. 29, 1942, Pritchard and Bottoms volunteered to return. They picked up another survivor but crashed after takeoff. Pritchard was 28.
The honors awarded Friday were in recognition of another dangerous rescue mission, led by Pritchard six days before his fatal crash, in which he traveled by land to save three members of the Royal Canadian Air Force stranded on the ice for nearly two weeks.