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2Lt Thomas John Gratzek

2Lt Thomas John Gratzek

Saint Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota, USA
Death 4 Jun 1942 (aged 24)
At Sea
Cenotaph Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA
Plot Courts of the Missing
Memorial ID 56131808 · View Source
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Thomas John "Tom" Gratzek was the son of Dr. Thomas Gratzek, MD, and Theresa Ann "Tressie" Olejniczak. He was born and raised in in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received his childhood education there.

The 1930 U.S. Census shows the family as living in St. Paul, Ramsey County, Minnesota. The following family members are shown as living in the home at that time:
Head Thomas Gratzek M 45 Minnesota
Wife Theresa Gratzek F 33 Minnesota
Son Thomas Gratzek Jr. M 11 Minnesota
Dau Florence Gratzek F 8 Minnesota
Dau Joan Gratzek F 6 Minnesota

The 1940 U.S. census recorded the same information but had one additional child.

Tom enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in early 1941. After completing his boot camp training he was accepted into the Marine Corps Flight Training Program and attended flight training school. He was taught to fly a dive bomber, and received his wings and his commission as a second lieutenant in early 1942.

On April 17, 1942, Tom disembarked from the USS WILLIAM WARD BURROWS and reported to the commander of VMSB-241 on Midway Island, under the command of the new commanding officer, who had came to Midway with Tom, Major Lofton Henderson.

Sergeant Charles Recke was assigned to be Tom's gunner and together started out flying an obsolete cloth covered Vought SB2U Vindicator dive-bomber. On May 26th, the squadron received a few Douglas Dauntless SBD-2 dive-bombers. Tom and Sgt. Recke were fortunate to be chosen to fly one of the new planes, #2119, although they would have only a few days to learn to operate it. They would fly in Major Henderson's First Division, with Captain Elmer C. Glidden as Tom's section leader and wingman.

On the morning of June 4, 1942, Maj. Henderson led his men into their first , and for most, last, combat action against the Empire of Japan. Tom and Sgt Recke took off from Midway and, as Japanese planes turned the base to rubble behind them, flew off to try and find the carrier strike force that was approaching their territory.

After nearly ninety minutes in the air, the Americans spotted the carriers – and were in turn spotted by patrolling planes from the carrier HIRYU. The slow dive bombers, unable to dive properly due to the pilots inexperience, were easy targets. Soon, seven of the bombers were falling in flames – one of them carried Tom and Sgt. Recke to their deaths.

When the Japanese fighters engaged the Marines, the Dauntlesses were little more than sitting ducks. Captain Armand DeLalio, leading the Third Section, watched a group of Zeros shoot up Tom's SBD-2. The dive-bomber shuddered as the fuselage burst into flames behind the engine. The plane hesitated, dropped back behind the formation, and then dropped towards the sea.

Tom's remains were never found. He was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions in the battle:

The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Thomas J. Gratzek (0-7506), Second Lieutenant, U.S. Marine Corps (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession while serving as a Pilot in Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron TWO HUNDRED FORTY-ONE (VMSB-241), Marine Air Group TWENTY-TWO (MAG-22), Naval Air Station, Midway, during operations of the U.S. Naval and Marine Forces against the invading Japanese Fleet during the Battle of Midway on 4 June 1942. During the initial attack upon an enemy aircraft carrier, Second Lieutenant Gratzek, in the face of withering fire from Japanese fighter guns and anti-aircraft batteries, dived his plane to a perilously low altitude before releasing his bomb. Since he failed to return to his base and is missing in action, there can be no doubt, under conditions attendant to the Battle of Midway, that he gave up his life in the defense of his country. His cool courage and conscientious devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."

At the time of his death, Tom's parents were living at 1104 Orange Street, St. Paul, Minnesota.
Second Lieutenant Thomas John Gratzek, Sn#0-7506, earned the following badges/decorations for his service with the United States Marine Corps during World War II:
- Navy Gold Pilot's Wings
- Navy Cross Medal
- Purple Heart Medal
- Combat Action Ribbon
- Presidential Unit Citation Ribbon
- American Defense Service Medal
- Asiatic-Pacific Theater of Operations Campaign Medal with one bronze battle/campaign star
- World War II Victory Medal

**NOTE** - A portion of this bio is based on information from the website They have done a fantastic job of researching approximately 3000 US Marines whose bodies were lost in the war. This writer wholeheartedly recommends their site for researchers or families of the missing. - Rick Lawrence, MSgt., USMC/USAFR {RET})

Gravesite Details Entered the service from Minnesota.





  • Maintained by: Rick Lawrence
  • Originally Created by: CWGC/ABMC
  • Added: 6 Aug 2010
  • Find A Grave Memorial 56131808
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for 2Lt Thomas John Gratzek (8 May 1918–4 Jun 1942), Find A Grave Memorial no. 56131808, citing Honolulu Memorial, Honolulu, Honolulu County, Hawaii, USA ; Maintained by Rick Lawrence (contributor 47207615) .