Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell
“The Greatest Generation,” a term coined by journalist Tom Brokaw, describes the generation who grew up during the Great Depression and fought for America in World War II.
One member of the generation, Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer John Gatton Jr., who served as a quartermaster on a Coast Guard landing craft during the Invasion of Normandy, crossed the bar for the final time, October 26, 2016, at the age of 93.
Eager to join the war effort, the Louisville, Kentucky, native ran away to Canada and enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force at age 16. However once his true age was discovered, he was discharged.
Gatton learned the U.S. Coast Guard was accepting recruits and hopped on a train bound for St. Louis, Missouri, to sign up. Afterward he stopped in Louisville to marry his sweetheart, Margaret Edith Mann, before heading to boot camp in New Orleans.
Following the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Gatton was assigned to a new amphibious craft, LCI(L) 96, which made landings in North Africa, Sicily, Salerno and on D-Day at Omaha Beach.
In 1943, Gatton’s landing craft sailed to England in preparation of the invasion of Normandy.
Coast Guard LCI(L)s carried out a myriad of duties while in the Pacific. These included: minesweeping, serving as ferries for passengers and mail, made smoke to screen U.S. Navy warships during invasion bombardments, fought off kamikaze attacks, trained B-29 crews in ditching techniques, laid buoys and carried out other aids to navigation work, escorted submarines, conducted air-sea rescue patrol duty, operated as harbor entrance control vessels and acted as salvage vessels. Many participated in the mine-clearing operation in the East China Sea known as “Operation Klondike” after the Japanese surrender.
There were close to 100 warships and large landing vessels manned by Coast Guardsmen for Operation Neptune, a codename given to the Normandy landings. The Coast Guard lost more vessels during the landings at Normandy than on any other single day in its 226-year history. Eighteen Coast Guardsmen died and 38 others were seriously wounded.
Gatton’s landing craft would return to the U.S. from fighting in WWII with four battle stars and the Coast Guard Unit Commendation.
After the war Gatton returned to Louisville where he and his wife raised four children. He is survived by three sons, three grandchildren and four great grandchildren.
Fair winds and following seas, shipmate. We thank you for all your contributions to your country and the Coast Guard.