Eugene J. Pratt, 96
Residence: Longtime resident of Kenmore; retired to Florida
War zone: Pacific
Years of service: 1941-46
Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippines Liberation Medal, World War II Victory Medal
Specialty: Communications attaché, general headquarters staff
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
Eugene Joseph Pratt was born smart. He was not only good with numbers; he could analyze situations and provide an accurate assessment.
So it should come as no surprise that as a teenager in the 1930s, he was one of the kids who organized baseball and hockey leagues at Schiller Park on Buffalo’s East Side. Those were the days before adults got into the act and started running youth sports.
It also should come as no surprise that after Pratt volunteered to serve in the Army, he rose quickly through the ranks, starting as a private and ending up as a captain.
What may come as a surprise is that he had a front-row seat to some of World War II’s biggest moments as a member of Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Pacific. He was there through the ups and downs – when MacArthur was driven out of the Philippines by Japanese forces, and when he later came back to make good on his famous promise of “I shall return.”
And Pratt was present when it all culminated with the Japanese surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. He was standing a few feet away, taking in the momentous occasion.
Yet Pratt acknowledges that at the time, the significance of the moment was lost on him.
“I was young, and it wasn’t until later that I realized how important that was,” says the 96-year-old veteran, who now makes his home in an assisted-living facility in Clearwater, Fla.
He says his mind isn’t as sharp as it once was, yet he still remembers his military service and is happy to share those memories.
Pratt also provides some family history, recalling how one of his aunts played the piano in a Bailey-Walden theater that showed silent movies before talkies. But it is his war years that he truly enjoys talking about.
“I had a high IQ, and the Army assigned me to the staff at headquarters,” he says. “I was one of MacArthur’s aides.”
While serving for nearly five years in the Pacific, Pratt was often given the task of verifying reports coming in from field commanders, who could not always be counted on for accuracy.
“Sometimes, there was a little question that would come up with a field commander’s report on how they were doing,” Pratt says.
“They might be a little biased, and I would go out as a representative from headquarters to check the accuracy. I would make my own observations and send in my report on how the unit was doing. I didn’t choose to go out into the field. They sent me out.”
His field reviews took him to New Guinea, the Philippines and other Pacific islands.
“New Guinea was terrible,” Pratt recalls. “It was sweltering.”
He also spent time in Australia, and he liked that.
Why wouldn’t he?
Headquarters sent him there to attend an Army officer training school in recognition of his hard work.
“It was unusual for that to happen, being sent to Australia, but that’s how I got my commission as a second lieutenant,” he says.
Soon after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, MacArthur’s staff moved into downtown Tokyo’s ornate Dai-Ichi Seimei Building, where MacArthur served a “supreme commander for the Allied powers” during the occupation of Japan.
Pratt had an office in that building, and although one of MacArthur’s aides, he said he was not on a first-name basis with the general.
But with certainty, he describes MacArthur as “a good guy.”
And it should come as no surprise that when Pratt completed his military service, he replicated his military success in civilian life.
He started off as a clerk at Niagara Share Corp., an investment company for the Schoellkopfs – a Buffalo industrial family that pioneered hydropower at Niagara Falls – and worked his way up to executive vice president and a member of the board of directors.
“His strength was in financial analysis, and he was very good at evaluating management teams in companies,” says his son Michael, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a financial analyst and adviser.
One of Pratt’s biggest professional triumphs was when he persuaded Niagara Share to invest $200,000 in Haloid Photographic, a Rochester-area company that had developed xerography. The investment in the company, which became better known as Xerox, swelled into a return of $20 million, Michael Pratt says.
Pratt, who retired at 62, was also a success in family life. A Kenmore resident for decades, he married Marie Klipfel, and they raised six children.
Michael Pratt says he fondly remembers how his father kept things shipshape on the home front.
During “Saturday morning room inspections from captain/dad Pratt, we stood at attention at the foot of our beds, while he would, with hands behind his back, put us ‘at ease’ and proceeded with the inspection of our rooms,” the son says.
Marie Pratt died in 2004, but for years, she and her husband maintained homes in Williamsville and Tarpon Springs, Fla., and enjoyed boating.
Speaking of boats, among Eugene Pratt’s prized possessions are snapshots of the Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri and a snapshot of MacArthur.
The general, in fact, autographed that photo.
The inscription reads:
“To Capt. Pratt, With cordial regards. Douglas MacArthur, Tokyo – 1945.”