John Pritchard was born on January 12, 1914, in Redfield, South Dakota. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on March 1, 1932, and received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on August 20, 1934. Pritchard graduated and was commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Coast Guard on June 2, 1938. His first assignment was as a line officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Haida in the Bering Sea from 1938 to 1940. Pritchard then entered flight training at Pensacola, Florida in August 1940, and graduated as Coast Guard Aviator Number 82 on February 15, 1941. His next assignment was at Coast Guard Air Station Miami, where he served from February 1941 to February 1942. LT Pritchard's final assignment was as the aviation officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Northland on the war-time Greenland Patrol from February 1942 until he was killed during a rescue mission on November 29, 1942.
His Distinguished Flying Cross Citation reads:
For heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flights as pilot of a plane which rescued Army fliers stranded on the Greenland Ice Cap on November 28, and 29, 1942. Knowing full well the dangers involved in landing on, and taking off from, the ice in a heavily loaded plane, and the probable consequences in case of failure, Lieutenant Pritchard started in his plane from Comanche Bay, East Greenland, and proceeded to the Ice Cap on which the Army fliers were stranded. Upon reaching the vicinity of the marooned airmen, he maneuvered his plane to a safe landing on the Ice Cap, took aboard two of the injured men and, with superb airmanship, successfully took off for his ship, arriving safely. The following day, he again volunteered to resume rescue operations for the remaining Army fliers and reached them without mishap. After getting one more of the men on board, he again took off successfully and started for his ship, but failed to return. By his courage, skill and fearless devotion to duty, Lieutenant Pritchard upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.