Decorated 100-year-old Farmington WWII, Korean War vet still getting honors from the military
FARMINGTON — A 100-year-old veteran of World War II and the Korean War who earned a Meritorious Service Medal, a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart, is still getting recognized by the military — nearly 50 years after he left it.
Wallace Gatrell, of Farmington, turned 100 on Jan. 25 of this year. He was set to be honored over the weekend by the Utah National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 145th Field Artillery; 65th Field Artillery Brigade by being inducted into the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.
UNG spokesperson Ileen Kennedy said the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara recognizes individuals who have demonstrated the highest standards of integrity and moral character; displayed an outstanding degree of professional competence; served the United States Army or Marine Corps Field Artillery with selflessness; and contributed to the promotion of the Field Artillery in ways that stand out in the eyes of the recipient’s seniors, subordinates and peers alike. According to the U.S. Army website, the field artillery branch fights enemies with cannons, rockets and missile fire.
Gatrell was born in Salt Lake City and graduated from East High School and the University of Utah. He was in the Pacific during WWII and was among the first reinforcements to be sent to Hawaii after the 1941 bombing at Pearl Harbor.
According to a biography provided by the UNG, Gatrell had enlisted in the Utah Guard in 1938. Except for a brief gap after World War II, he was in the Army until 1972. He served as a cadet, enlisted soldier, warrant officer and commissioned officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He spent more than 20 years in the Artillery, beginning with 75 mm howitzers and finishing up with nuclear-capable Honest John rockets.
By the time the Korean War started, Gatrell arrived in the country during some of the most treacherous days of the conflict, according to the UNG bio. He ran ammunition convoys, was in firing batteries and served as a forward observer. On Nov. 26, 1950, during the American retreat after the Chinese ambushed Korea, Gatrell was wounded near the Chongchon River. He rescued a soldier who had been wounded and fell off a tank as the team was retreating, and then took to caring for fellow soldiers before getting treatment for a wound he had suffered. During the chaos, a fragment hit Gatrell, exiting near his back and just missing his spine.
Gatrell said a doctor eventually opened up his wound, and cleaned it in both directions “like shining shoes” using antiseptic-soaked gauze and an instrument like a cleaning rod. Wallace spent about two weeks in the hospital, then rejoined his unit.
“I always say the Army was good to me,” Gatrell told the Standard-Examiner in a profile that was published on his 100th birthday. “But I guess I was good to the Army too.”
Lt. Col. Brett Anderson, commander of the 1-145th Field Artillery Battalion, said Gatrell’s life and career in the military should serve to inspire the men and women under his command.
“Having this opportunity to recognize Mr. Gatrell is a great honor for 1-145th Field Artillery Battalion,” Anderson said in a statement. “It’s a rare opportunity to connect this generation of soldiers with someone who represented their organization over 80 years ago. After being a part of this event, I think many of us will take an extra moment to reflect the next time we put on this uniform.”