Coast Guard Heroes: Joseph Gerczak

The Coast Guard Compass was proud to unveil the first 25 heroes the service’s new fast response cutters would be named for and we are even prouder to share the next 10 names with you in a continuation of our Coast Guard Heroes series. Over the next two weeks we’ll be sharing profiles of the namesakes of the Coast Guard’s fast response cutters, from legends of the U.S. Life Saving Service to courageous men who served during the Vietnam War. Today, we share with you the story of Joseph Gerczak.

Written by Christopher Havern

LST-66 landing US Marines on Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

LST-66 landing US Marines on Cape Gloucester, New Britain.

Joseph Gerczak was born on Feb. 10, 1922, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Simon Gratz High School in June 1939 and was working as an apprentice machinist making gun parts when he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard on Sept. 26, 1942.

He completed his recruit training at Recruit Training Station, Curtis Bay, Maryland, and was initially assigned to the Coastal Pickets, CG-75003 and CG-46015 on Nov. 20, 1942. He was later transferred to LST Flotilla 8 on Feb. 11, 1943 and assigned to USS LST-66 on April 3,1943. While a part of LST-66’s crew, he was promoted to signalman third class on Nov. 1, 1943.

The service record photo of Joseph Gerczak. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The service record photo of Joseph Gerczak. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Gerczak was on board USS LST-66 during the initial assault against the Japanese-held Borgen Bay Area of New Britain on Dec. 26, 1943. As seven Japanese dive bombers suddenly attacked his ship as it stood in the bay awaiting other vessels then unloading cargo on the beach, Gerczak immediately manned his battle station and was the first to open fire. When the planes came in and struck from starboard, he poured his drums of ammunition into the attackers with unrelenting fury, blasting two from the sky and into the sea near his vessel. With his ship struck by bomb fragments each bursting successively closer, he dauntlessly continued delivering a steady stream of bullets against the enemy until he was fatally struck down by a violent blast which forced shrapnel into his gun shield and silenced his weapon. By his expert marksmanship, unwavering perseverance, and cool courage in the face of tremendous odds, he contributed to the success of this and previous assault and reinforcement landings during the New Guinea Campaign. His constant devotion to duty throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Naval Service.

In recognition for having gallantly given his life for his country, Gerczak was posthumously awarded the Silver Star. He also posthumously received the Purple Heart and Presidential Unit Commendation that was awarded to LST-66 for meritorious service in action against the Japanese.

Gerczak was initially interred at the U.S. Armed Forces Cemetery at Finschhafen, New Guinea, but his remains were later disinterred and returned to the United States. He was laid to rest at Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania.

Map of the Cape Gloucester Landings on New Britain including the Borgen Bay area.

Map of the Cape Gloucester Landings on New Britain including the Borgen Bay area.

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