Pancratz, George E.

George Edward Pancratz

Born: April 13, 1923
Hometown: Little Falls, MN
Class: 1944
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: September 18, 1943 / Tunisia
Date / Place of burial: September 19, 1943 / U.S. Military
Cemetery, Mateur, Tunisia;
April 2, 1949 / Calvary Cemetery, Little Falls, MN
Age: 20

 

George E. Pancratz signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the SS Bushrod Washington on
May 7, 1943 at New York, NY, just two weeks after the ship had been completed. He
was joined by his classmate, Cadet-Midshipman William S. Sempell who signed on as
Engine Cadet the same day. Shortly thereafter the Bushrod Washington sailed for the
Mediterranean where it remained for the rest of its short life.

On September 3, 1943, the Bushrod Washington sailed from Oran with a convoy bound
for the landing beaches at Salerno, Italy, with a cargo of ammunition, high octane
aviation gasoline in drums, bombs, “C” rations, Army trucks and landing craft. The
vessel arrived at Salerno on September 11th, and anchored about three quarters of a
mile off Salerno Beach, in a northeast-southwest direction, stern to shore. The Bushrod
Washington was carrying a crew of 42 merchant seaman and 33 Naval Armed Guard.
The ship’s Master was Jonathan Wainwright, V, son of General Jonathan Wainwright,
the American Commander at Corregidor and Bataan in the Philippines.

On September 14th at 1322, the vessel was attacked by either German dive bombers or
glide bombs. Much of the cargo had been unloaded over the previous days, but the
gasoline and explosives were still on board. One bomb missed the ship by about 150
feet while another struck the vessel in the midship house between Lifeboat #2 and #4.
This bomb went through the crew mess room and exploded below the main deck.
Reports differ on whether the bomb hit the engine room directly, or landed in the ice
machine room nearby. In either case, the ship’s engines were moved to starboard by
the force of the explosion, and the port boiler exploded. The engine crew on duty,
which included the First Assistant Engineer and the Cadet-Midshipman William Sempell,
never made it out of the engine room.

The explosion also ignited the gasoline in the Number 4 hold. Within minutes the entire
ship was a raging inferno. At 1352, the Captain ordered the crew to abandon ship.
Many crew members made it into Lifeboat #1 and #3. Others jumped overboard and
were rescued by small boats that came alongside the ship. Captain Wainwright and
four other crew members later re-boarded the ship in an attempt to extinguish the fire.
However, this proved to be impossible, and the ship was finally abandoned. Six
members of the Bushrod Washington’s crew, including Cadet-Midshipman William
Sempell, and one of the Naval Armed Guard Sailors were lost in the bombing.

The injured crew members, including badly burned Cadet-Midshipman George
Pancratz, were placed aboard the Royal Navy Hospital Ship HMHS Amarapoora for
care and transportation to hospitals in North Africa. George Pancratz died of his
wounds four days later, and was buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery at Mateur, Tunisia.

Cadet-Midshipman George E. Pancratz was posthumously awarded the Combat Bar
with two stars, Mariners Medal, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Mediterranean-Middle East War
Zone Bar, the Victory Medal, and Presidential Testimonial Letter. Although Academy
records indicate that Cadet-Midshipman Pancratz was a member of the “Tin Fish Club”,
the name of the ship he served aboard before the Bushrod Washington could not be
determined.

George Pancratz was the oldest son and the second of four children of Lambert
Pancratz and Irene Tanner Pancratz. George had an older sister named Gertrude and
younger siblings named Thomas and Barbara. Lambert Pancratz owned a sheet metal
shop specializing in fabrication and repair of roofs and heating / ventilation systems.
Although George’s body was initially buried in an American Military Cemetery in Tunisia,
his body was returned to his parents in 1949. On April 2, 1949 his body was re-interred
at the Calvary Cemetery in Little Falls, Minnesota.

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