A number of Mountain Area veterans have had the privilege of visiting Washington, D.C. to view the WWII Memorial honoring them and their service to this country, courtesy of Central Valley Honor Flights.
This is the second part of a story that began last week on participants on the September honor flight. What follows are military service details of a couple others also participating in that flight.
D.M. Bartlett, then of Oakhurst and now a resident at the Veterans Home of California-Fresno was 90 at the time of his trip to Washington, D.C. And, yes, D.M. is his name as his parents named two of their children with just two initial letters, Bartlett said.
Turning 18 meant the arrival of a draft notice for Bartlett living in Longview, Texas. “My minister and I went down to join the Navy,” he said. “He was accepted. They turned me down because I had flat feet.”
Bartlett then walked across the hall to an Air Force recruiting office where they accepted him. He easily remembers his enlistment date, Dec. 7, 1942, one year after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
Following basic training at Sheppard Field in Texas, Bartlett was assigned to a squadron, and sent to Louisville, Ky. He wanted to go to school for additional training and found that the only opportunity was glider mechanic school. After this training, he was assigned to Sedalia, Mo. At the time, there were no gliders on this base so duties included “washing the bellies of airplanes,” he remembers.
Engine specialist training at the TWA school in Kansas City was followed by an assignment to Hunter Field, Ga. and then the European front flying in a C-47 troop carrier as the flight engineer. His unit, stationed in England, was assigned to fly released prisoners of war from Leipzig, Germany, to Rheims, France.
He got word on one of these flights that his brother, an infantryman, who had been a prisoner of war in Italy after his capture in Salerno was on a plane flying ahead of his and headed for France. As soon as Bartlett landed, he hitchhiked to the hospital where his brother who had been shot in both the heel and knee was recovering.
On another flight near the end of the war while transporting paratroopers, Bartlett’s plane was shot down near Weisel, Germany. With the 13 paratroopers they were carrying already on the ground, it was necessary for the crew to also parachute from the plane.
“We weren’t trained to bail out (of the plane),” Bartlett said.
When the paratroopers bailed out, their ripcords were attached to the plane but those of the crew were not. Bartlett remembers counting to five and then pulling his ripcord.
“It was in my hand,” he said, remembering that he thought he had broken it off. “Nobody told me it would come loose.”
Once on the ground, the police whistles issued to the troops were used to locate those who were friendly.
A total of three planes were lost by his squadron. In addition to the one he parachuted from, two others were lost over Normandy but there were only about three fatalities, Bartlett remembers. His squadron also flew over the Battle of the Bulge dropping food and supplies to support ground troops.
The five combat flights dropping paratroopers from only 800 feet resulted in seven Bronze Battle Stars and an Air Medal for Staff Sgt. Bartlett.
While Bartlett was home on leave, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and he received his discharge from duty.
“Jobs were scarce (after the war),” Bartlett said.
He found work as a roughneck in the Texas oilfields. Another job as a telegrapher for the railroad ended rather abruptly when they found out he was colorblind. Hearing of railroad jobs in California, Bartlett found work for the next 39 years working as a telegrapher, dispatcher and station agent employed both by the Santa Fe and Southern Pacific railroads.
“I saw things I never dreamed of being able to see,” Bartlett said describing his trip to Washington, D.C. Even though the engraving of Kilroy on the WWII Memorial was cordoned off to the public, the Honor Flight members received permission to view the engraving of the Kilroy figure and the famous “Kilroy was here,” phrase on the memorial.
This brought a smile to Bartlett.
After landing in Fresno at the end of the September, 2014, Central Valley Honor Flight, WWII veteran Harold Hart recalls his son saying to him, “(Dad), when we got back to Washington, D.C., we’re walking down the street and there were guys hollering at you, your name, from across the street and I find out, after being there, you were in several battles on different islands. How did you keep from getting killed?”
“Son, there’s only one answer to that, I pulled the trigger first,” said the elder Hart, tears welling up in his eyes as he recounted the event almost a year later.
The younger Hart accompanied his father as his guardian on the flight. He told his father that growing up, he thought the elder Hart had been in only one battle, the battle of the South Pacific. The elder Hart explained to his son that all of the WWII battles he fought in were in the South Pacific.
After searching for his red, sweat-stained cap which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Battle on Iwo Jima, a battle that lasted 36 days and claimed the lives of 26,000 U.S. soldiers, Hart said, “I’ll tell you how I earned it (the hat). I was a scout and sniper for Company G, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment, 4th Marine Division and I had taken my telescope off of my sniper rifle and put it on my BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle).
“The last hour I was on Iwo Jima, the Japanese they decided to pull a banzai,” Hart continued. The American forces were on one side of the airfield and the Japanese were coming down the other.
“And the last hour I was on Iwo Jima I killed 80,” Bartlett said. “It was my father that taught me to hunt and shoot when I was 12 years old.” His father had been in the cavalry in the Army in WWI.
“I could put four bullets in a four-inch square at 200 yards,” Hart explained the accuracy of his shooting.
Hart landed on Iwo Jima on February 19. On the 24th, he was taken unconscious to an Army hospital on Saipan. This was Hart’s fourth concussion since entering the fighting. This time he was unconscious for three weeks. Once he regained consciousness and found out that he, a Marine, was in an Army hospital, he insisted on being moved to a Marine hospital. The muscle spasms he began experiencing after being wounded still hound him today, not allowing him a sound night’s sleep.
He had suffered his first concussion when fighting on Roi-Namur. That concussion left him unconscious some six to eight hours.
Next, “(we were) on Saipan 33 straight days. That was a hell of a battle,” Hart said. Eleven days later, Hart was engaged in the fighting on Tinian and after that it was the battle on Iwo Jima.
Even enlisting in the Marines ended up being a battle of sorts for Hart. The day following high school graduation, Hart headed to Des Moines to enlist. He weighed in at 89 lbs. and measured 5-feet-one-half-inches tall. The Marine at the enlistment center said, “You’re really going to have to get a little bigger before the Marines will take you in. Eat everything you can and come back.”
So almost two years later in 1943 at age 19, he did go back and this time they took him.
But the concussion and sixth vertebra permanent nerve damage suffered on Iwo Jima were enough to send him home.
“We’re getting rid of you. You’ve given all you’ve got and you’re going home,” Dr. Agnes Conrad told him. He was discharged July 3, 1945, as a Corporal since his captain insisted on the rank promotion even though he, Hart, had requested that he remain a private.
Hart received a military pension until 1948, when he said the pension just quit coming. But Mario Flores, who until recently was the Central California VA Health Care System Disabled American Veterans Hospital Service Coordinator, looked into the situation and that pension was recently reinstated.
Hart tries to go to the VA Hospital in Fresno once a week to visit with residents and patients. His wife of 45 years, Josiane, drops him off there and he goes with the mantra, “Who can I get to laugh today?”
He remains in contact with a WWII buddy who shared crawling down cargo nets to board the landing ships as they stormed the beach at Iwo Jima.
After his service, he raised pigs in Iowa and horses and mules in California. He was also a member of the Screen Actors’ Guild for some 20 years. He made about 48 commercials for various products, was in “Freebie and the Bean” with James Caan and “Die Laughing” which starred Robby Benson.