German sailor to revisit schooner he sailed on in WWII

Lots of patriotic events are planned for the Fourth of July, but here’s one that isn’t about the good old US of A.

Johann Bernard will visit his old ship from World War II — when he served in the German navy, der Kriegsmarine.

Bernard will step aboard the USCGC Eagle on Friday, as the 295-foot bark, a sailing ship, visits Tacoma during a “Tall Ship” festival. He was a cook on the Eagle, which was named the Horst Wessel when it belonged to Germany, before it became a war prize for the United States.

The Eagle is used as a training cutter for future officers of the U.S. Coast Guard.

During the war, the Horst Wessel was near a bomb dropping and the ship caught on fire. Bernard received an Iron Cross First Class for his efforts putting out the resulting fire on board and saving passengers’ lives.

“During the war, we carried Nazi bigwigs,” said Bernard, 83. “The privileged.”

Rich Germans sheltered their young men on the Horst Wessel, Bernard said.

After serving on the schooner, Bernard worked one voyage on the U-603 submarine on a mission from Germany to Japan. The U-603 was sent to the bottom on her next patrol.

His son, Ralph Bernard, said his father also served on Kreutzer (Cruiser) Nuernberg.

“Dad looked out of a Nurnberg porthole and saw a couple of Jewish prisoners who were starving. He and another cook gave them some soup with a broom handle. Someone on the ship had seen this action and my dad got a week in the brig for that.”

Hoping to find work in America, Bernard immigrated to Chicago, Ill. in 1954. His first job was sweeping floors. He learned English on the fly and brought his wife and son to America two years later.

Mr. Bernard ended up working in the electronics field in Chicago. The family moved to Everett more than 15 years ago. They live together in Marysville.

Johann Bernard’s wife of 56 years died in December.

He visits her grave every day.

His son is proud to display his father’s war photographs on the living room wall. He is planning to help his father write about being a witness to history.

“Dad went hungry a lot as a kid,” Ralph Bernard said. “He wanted to go someplace where the food was good.”

There is nothing his father likes to eat more than pork ribs, sauerkraut and dumplings, sloshed down with a stein of beer. In the navy, Johann Bernard made deals: He would cook an extra pork chop for a sailor if the sailor would clean the pots.

Johann Bernard still loves to cook, but never does the dishes.

He’ll remember his galley days when he visits the old schooner.

Columnist Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451 or

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