[Excerpted from U. S. Coast Guard Magazine, printed during WWII.]
He Saw Three Invasions
John S. Gretzer, a slender youth from Council Bluffs, Ia., was working in Kansas City, Mo., as an artist when he enlisted in the Coast Guard to see action. He saw it. During eighteen months’ service aboard a Coast Guard manned combat transport he participated in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy.
“Bombers for breakfast, bombers for supper, bombers all the time. You couldn’t even sit down to eat without feeling that in a couple minutes you were going to run for the guns,” he said, recalling the North African invasion.
At night the German bombers dropped flares. It’s twice as bad at night¾in daytime you can see what’s going on around you. At night you feel as if the dark hides you, then a flare drops and you have the horrible feeling of being naked in public,” said the Coast Guard combat artist, whose battle station was at a 20 mm.
“Algiers was my first invasion and it made the greatest impression on my mind. After that invasions were somewhat the same. The incidents were different, however. I remember the German plane that came in so low at Gela that I could see the pilot, and seeing his plane get hit the second time he tried it. All that I could think of was speed being smashed into death, though the words didn’t come to me until later. I think I was most nervous at Salerno when we were leaving. We had to go through a narrow channel in a minefield, single file, and I kept thinking that if the lead ship was sunk the rest would be blockaded and the Germans could bump us off like drowsy ducks. Actually, however, North Africa was the hardest on the ships, and Salerno the hardest on the soldiers, judging from what I saw.”
The Coast Guardsman was born in Council Bluffs, Ia., in 1920. At various times he attended Omaha University in Omaha, Nebr., worked as an advertising artist at the Omaha World-Herald, and attended the Kansas City, Mo., Art Institute. Thomas Hart Benton was among his instructors at the Art Institute. In December, 1941, Gretzer married the former Miss Agneta E. Jenson, of Omaha, whom he first met in a sculpture class at the university. Several months later he enlisted in the Coast Guard.
Return To Coast Guard Stories