CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Francis “Frank” Prettyman was born in December 1916 in Jersey City, New Jersey. He graduated from high school in 1934 and then completed two years of college. Prettyman worked for the United States Department of the Treasury in Newark. In 1940, with the war raging in Europe, and figuring that the United States might soon be in it, he joined the New Jersey National Guard’s 102nd Cavalry Regiment. In November of that year the regiment was reorganized as the 102nd Cavalry Horse/Mechanized. In the cavalry, company-sized units were referred to as “troops.”
On January 6, 1941, the 102nd was called into federal service. Prettyman reported to his unit at the Roseville Avenue Armory in Newark. He remained there for about a week before being shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where the regiment was assigned for training. The 102nd, intended as a reconnaissance unit, was divided into sections and assigned a variety of arms and equipment, including scout cars, motorcycles, reconnaissance cars and trucks. Half the unit remained mounted on horseback; however, and Prettyman, who enjoyed riding, was assigned to a horse troop. The mounted cavalry troops were equipped with trailers to transport the horse squadrons to points of deployment. Each trailer could transport a squad of eight men, their mounts, all their equipment, weapons and short-term essential supplies.
Training was intensive and included the development of skills with the weapons assigned to a Horse/Mechanized regiment, as well as care and maintenance of vehicles and equipment new to the organization. The success of the training and of the regiment’s proficiency was put to the test, from September through early December 1941, in the largest peacetime military maneuvers ever staged in the United States. The 102nd’s one-year tour of duty was supposed to end in January 1942; but, the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor changed that. Instead of being discharged, the men of the regiment were ordered to prepare for overseas duty. They would be in the fight to the finish.
Events in Europe, particularly the German “blitzkrieg” tactics, clearly indicated the diminished effectiveness of horse cavalry in modern warfare. On April 6, 1942, the 102nd Cavalry turned in its horses and was reorganized into a fully mechanized regiment. Many of the horses would end up on beach patrol with the Coast Guard.
Prettyman’s troop had initially consisted of two squadrons, one mounted on horses and another mechanized. With the transition, the horses were replaced with Jeeps (often called “Bantams” after their original developer), by the soldiers of the 102nd. Driver training replaced equine training. Prettyman recalled that it was an easy transition, because he did not have to take care of a Jeep like he did a horse. A horse had to be well fed and physically groomed, whereas a Jeep only had to be turned on and off.
In January, the 102nd received orders to prepare for overseas deployment. The unit was supposed to travel to Great Britain aboard the French luxury liner Normandy, which had been docked in New York since the outbreak of war in 1939 and converted to a troopship. Unfortunately, the Normandy caught fire and sank at her dock on February 16, in an incident many suspected to be sabotage. The unit finally boarded HMS Dempo in September 1942, as part of a 96-ship convoy. Despite some engine trouble off Sandy Hook, New Jersey – which caused the Dempo to drop out of the convoy temporarily, catching up in Halifax, Nova Scotia – the voyage proved uneventful; and, the ship docked in Liverpool England on October 7.
After landing at Liverpool, the 102nd was stationed in the town of Fairfield in the Cotswold region, where one troop was issued M5A1 “Stuart” light tanks with 37mm guns, and four French 75 mm artillery pieces mounted on halftracks. Training continued apace during the regiment’s sojourn in England. Towards the end of the year, Prettyman’s 2nd Squadron moved to Shrivingham Barracks and then on to Glasgow, Scotland, where the Jerseymen boarded HMS Straithaird. The ship subsequently landed at Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea in Algeria, North Africa, on the morning of January 3, 1943, a little less than two months after the first Allied Forces had come ashore in North Africa on November 8th, 1942.
Prettyman’s squadron was designated as the Allied Force Headquarters (AFQC) security detachment. After several days in the El Biar section of Algiers, where Prettyman and his comrades viewed nightly bombings of the city by the German Luftwaffe, the squadron moved about 18 miles south to the small town of Douera. The area of security the cavalrymen patrolled extended for a radius of 120 miles beyond Algiers. One troop was on full alert every 24 hours.
The squadron worked as a security detail for Supreme Commander Allied Force General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s headquarters during the remainder of the North African Campaign. A Special Security Platoon provided escorts for King George V, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Chief of Staff General George Marshall and many other dignitaries when they arrived at Maison Blanche Airport during their visits to AFHQ. The platoon also provided escorts to U.S. Generals Omar Bradley, George Patton and Lucian Truscott, as well as British Generals Harold Alexander and Kenneth Anderson on their travels in the combat zone. On November 30, 1943, the squadron was re-designated as the 117th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, Mechanized.
In May 1944, the 117th left North Africa and landed in Naples, Italy. The hard-fought Anzio Campaign, where the unit suffered its first casualties, ended, and the squadron then was designated to escort General Mark Clark. Prettyman was assigned to drive a Jeep in front of Clark; and, he joked that he had suddenly been promoted to three-star general, as there were three stars painted on a placard on the front of his Jeep.
When the Germans were driven out of Rome, General Clark decided to stage a grand entry delay into the city. On July 4, 1944, with the 117th’s executive officer leading the way, the squadron drove into the Eternal City, riding through streets lined with people peacefully waving flags. There was not a single shot fired, which was a huge relief for Prettyman and his comrades. Clark entered the headquarters established in the city to visit with the officers stationed there, then returned to his vehicle. Prettyman and the rest of the escort accompanied the general to a hotel, where they ended up sleeping that night. The following day the squadron returned to Naples to prepare for an invasion of southern France.
In August, the 117th boarded a troop transport to head for France. The ship encountered a violent storm while at sea, forcing a temporary halt in Corsica. On August 15, the squadron landed on the French Riviera, just west of Saint-Tropez, and was split into separate recon units attached to different divisions. Prettyman’s troop was assigned to the 3rd Division.
After the landing, Prettyman’s troop drew fire from German machine guns positioned at a nearby hotel. He recalled that, while taking cover, he spotted a dead American paratrooper laying over a balcony railing. Some airborne soldiers had landed the night before the invasion, and it appeared the Germans had shot this man during that operation. Prettyman recalled that the sight of that dead man was one of the most disturbing things he saw during the war.
The Americans quickly pushed north; and, on August 27, 1944, Prettyman and a detachment from the 117th were sent on a recon mission to a small town in the Rhone Valley. They approached a house on the side of a hill where Germans were reportedly holding civilian hostages. As the Americans closed in on the house, Germans fired on them from the windows. Prettyman, with another soldier and a French Underground fighter, drove into the backyard, hopped out of the Jeep and took shelter behind a bush, but a German soldier caught them by surprise and shot all three of them. Prettyman laid on the ground bleeding from his wound; and, he made sure the coast was clear before calling for help. Two American soldiers managed to rescue him; but, the incident marked the end of his active military service.
Prettyman was flown back to Naples, where he underwent emergency surgery. He was placed in a body cast and hospitalized for three and a half months before boarding a hospital ship back to New York, where he was transferred to Halloran Hospital on Staten Island. Prettyman remained at Halloran over Christmas, and his family visited him for the holiday. He was subsequently sent to Staunton General Hospital in Virginia, and he spent several months there. Prettyman was transferred once again to England General Hospital in Atlantic City, an army hospital that specialized in physical rehabilitation. He was operated on once more in Atlantic City, and he spent several months in therapy before being discharged in March 1946. In total, Prettyman, who was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals, spent eighteen months in hospitals after being wounded.
After the war, Prettyman married his wife Angela. They had five children, every one of whom served in the military. One was scheduled for deployment to the Vietnam War as it wound down and was not sent. Another one of his children served as a fire command and control specialist in the navy. Prettyman stated that he thought it an honorable thing for one to serve his or her country; and, whoever is given that opportunity should take advantage of it.
Prettyman moved from Jersey City to Bloomfield, New Jersey, after the war. He enjoyed a career as a staff accountant for Pan American World Airways before retiring and moving to the Jersey Shore. In 2009, Prettyman was awarded the French Legion of Honor for contributing to that nation’s liberation from Nazi Germany. Francis Prettyman, considered a “legend” by his friends and neighbors, passed away on May 27, 2011, at the age of 94.