“[My family] said he was a very loving and attentive father,” she said. “While some men wanted to go out and do ‘guy things,’ he really enjoyed being home with his family and being a father.”
A letter home on February 5, 1965 reflected this love and shared news that he would be returning home for a visit the following month.
“I guess I’ll be home about the middle of March,” he wrote. “I pulled a fast one this time, I’m quite proud of it. I told the Captain that I would ship over in HS-4 if I got thirty days leave in the states and he set out a legal way to do it. He finally came up with a three week school with thirty day[s] [of] leave attached, how about that! I really get a rise out of the guys when I mention it, they’re rather bitter and I take a lot of (good natured?) ribbing, actually they hate me. And I glory in it. I’m raffling off my rack and locker.”
Also in the letter, he wrote of the deployment’s fast pace and the long hours worked.
“It’s beginning to get pretty boring, we’ve been flying around the clock for eleven days now and the people and machines are getting pretty tired. We’re working pretty hard to keep the birds up plus a minimum of about five hours a day flying, added to a twelve hour working day, you begin to drag.”
Eileen was just seven months old when her family received the news.
On February 25, 1965, her father perished along with two other crewmembers, Lt. Thomas D. Vincent and Lt. Charles K. Moran, in a crash at sea. The aircraft, an H-3 helicopter, was on a night, low-level mission in a combat zone and went down at sea after a night launch from the USS Yorktown. Although there were no survivors of the crash, it is believed that the aircraft lost total electrical power, which resulted in total loss of control.
It was the only loss of crew by the Yorktown’s HS-4 squadron during the Vietnam War.
“It was devastating – as it always is when you lose one of your shipmates,” said Robert M. Dorsey, President of the USS Yorktown (CV-10) Association and a pilot who served with the squadron.
“[Pratt] was highly respected by pilots and other aircrew and was close to being promoted as a Chief Petty Officer,” Dorsey stated. “He flew with me a number of times and always enjoyed having him on my flight.”
When news of the crash reached the Yorktown, Dorsey recalled, “Aircrew were saying, ‘Gosh, I hope that wasn’t Pratt.’”
A Lasting Legacy
Today, Eileen Owen honors her father’s legacy by staying connected to the USS Yorktown and the men with whom he served.
She recalled a trip to visit the “Fighting Lady” two years ago with her brother and former crewmembers.
“As we walked down the hallways, I couldn’t help but think, my Dad might have walked here, slept there. I enjoyed hearing the stories that only they knew after working with him.”
On Friday, October 12, Eileen Owen and her mother will joined families of the fallen crewmembers, Lt. Moran and Lt. Vincent, for a ceremony aboard the USS Yorktown to honor the service and sacrifice of this heroic crew.
“These men served our country with distinction and made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” said Patriots Point Executive Director Mac Burdette. “The placement of their names on the side of our H-3 is the highest honor we can bestow upon our veterans and is part of our ongoing efforts to bring the Yorktown to life and to enhance the museum’s educational program. We were honored to be joined by members of their family for this ceremony and proud to tell their story of sacrifice at Patriots Point.”
“It’s such an honor,” Eileen said. “I’m also thrilled for families of the other crewmembers who will be recognized.”
Also during the ceremony, Patriots Point recognized Dr. Art Schmitt and James B. Dorsey by placing their names on the opposite side of the fuselage.
Dr. Schmitt and Dorsey distinguished themselves while operating H-3s and other helicopter types both during combat operations and while involved with the Apollo space program including the recovery of Apollo 8.