FARMINGTON — As it turns out, reaching your 100th birthday isn't all that difficult — at least not if you're Wallace Gatrell.
The Farmington Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War turns 100 on Monday, Jan. 25. He has an unambiguous, inarguable approach to his longevity.
"All you have to do is wake up more times than you go to sleep," Gatrell said Thursday, just days before he hit the big 1-0-0. "It's that simple."
But digging into Gatrell's military career, one quickly finds out his story is much more complex.
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.
In addition to a Purple Heart, Gatrell received a Silver Star — the U.S. military's third highest combat decoration — for gallantry in action against an armed enemy during his stint in Korea.
According to the Military Times Hall of Valor Project, Gatrell was wounded in November 1950, in the vicinity of Kunu-ri, Korea. After the unit he was leading became severely outnumbered by enemy forces and driven to retreat, a wounded Gatrell left the safety of a tank he was in to rescue another member of his unit who was also wounded. According to a brief from the Hall of Valor Project, Gatrell reached a fist aid station with the victim and despite being in rough shape himself, made sure that all of his wounded men were attended to before he would allow medics to treat him.
"I always say the Army was good to me," Gatrell says matter-of-factly. "But I guess I was good to the Army too."
Even though he holds war hero status, Gatrell's daughter Tammy Van Tassell says his work as a family man was more impactful. Gatrell was married to his wife, Ruth Barton Gatrell, for 72 years before she passed away in 2017. The couple had eight kids, 45 grandchildren and 100 great-grandchildren.
"He's a great man who served his country well," Van Tassell says of her dad. "But he served his family even better. He taught us dedication, stick-to-itiveness and the importance of family. It's kind of incredible, but we've always got along well together, even with so many people in the family. We learned from his example."
Gatrell was known to say the best decision he ever made was marrying his wife.
After a 30-year military career, Gatrell worked as an accountant for the state. He retired in 1997 at 76-years-old and then for 20 years after that, served a stay-at-home service mission with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Gatrell and his wife worked to track down members of the church whose whereabouts were unknown.
"He kept doing that into his late 90s, until 2017," Van Tassell said. "That kind sums up the work ethic he has."
In recent years, Gatrell had been living in a nursing home, but moved out shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Van Tassell works as his at-home caretaker and considers it a privilege.
"He's so grateful and thankful," Van Tassell says. "Even something as simple as getting him out of a chair, he always says, 'Thank you.' I guess the good upbringing he had still holds true after 100 years."