Former Utah National Guard member turns 100

By Ileen Kennedy | Utah National Guard | Jan. 21, 2021

FARMINGTON, Utah —

Lt. Col. (retired) Wallace Bassett Gatrell was born on Jan. 25, 1921. He has lived through 20 U.S. presidents, served through World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars, and into the Cold War, serving a 34-year career in the military.

Gatrell’s family wanted to celebrate with him for his 100th birthday, but they had to do it safely during the pandemic. So, they held a drive-by birthday parade past his home in Farmington, Utah in his honor. 

Utahns who have turned 100 in the last year are welcomed into the Governor's Century Club. Another honor that will be bestowed upon Gatrell. A common question asked of club members is what’s the secret to making it to 100-years old? Gatrell shares his secret to longevity, “Waking up one more time than you go to bed, and doing it for 100 years!” 

On his 100th birthday, Gatrell also shared a bit of wisdom for others by simply saying, “Buy low and sell high.”

Gartell was born in Salt Lake City, and grew up on Green Street.  He attended West High School, where he enrolled in Junior ROTC.  After he graduated, he joined the Utah National Guard in June 1938. With the exception of a brief gap after World War II, he served in the U.S. military until 1972.  He served as a cadet, enlisted soldier, warrant officer and commissioned officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.  His first unit in the Utah National Guard was Battery D, 145th Field Artillery, part of the 65th Artillery Brigade and the 40th Infantry Division.  He spent more than 20 years in the Artillery Corps. 

 He took part in the Kwajalein, Saipan and Tinian campaigns, and participated in the liberation of the Philippines. 

Upon returning to the United States aboard a ship that docked in Seattle, Gatrell said he called Ruth Josephine Barton while she was in Salt Lake City, and asked, “When are we getting married?”  

Ruth answered, “I’m free next week.”  

They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on July 18, 1945. They were together for more than 72 years.  She died Sept. 15, 2017.

Gatrell’s family recorded a written military history of some of his experiences serving. Part of that record reads:    

When the Korean War broke out, the 2nd Infantry Division was the first stateside unit sent there.  Wallace arrived there during some of the darkest days of the war.  He ran ammunition convoys, was in firing batteries, and served as a forward observer.  On November 26, 1950, during the American retreat after the Chinese poured into Korea, he was wounded near the Chongchon River.  He personally rescued a soldier who had been wounded and fell off the tank his team was riding on, and ensured all his soldiers were cared for before getting treatment for his own wound.  A fragment had gone in and out his lower side toward his back, fortunately missing his spine.  The doctor opened up the wound, then cleaned it out 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.  

Gatrell received the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in Korea. His leadership and bravery during those difficult times was also recognized by the award of the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor in combat and two awards of the Bronze Star with “V” device, for acts of heroism. He also earned four battle stars in the Pacific, and four more in Korea.

When asked what it meant to him to receive these awards, he simply said, “Well, I was honored.”

Gatrell retired from active duty April 7, 1972, receiving the Meritorious Service Medal.  He worked for the Utah Department of Health for another 25 years, retiring from there in 1997.

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