By Capt. Melissa Stenquist
Utah Army National Guard
At 100 years young and counting, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Wallace B. Gatrell, a field artillery legend in his own right, received induction into the Order of Saint Barbara April 10, 2021, in the Utah Army National Guard’s Scott B. Lundell Readiness Center at Camp Williams, Utah. The ceremony honored him and his service, as well as the few other artillerymen who received this prestigious honor.
Artillerymen and women around the world know the legend of Saint Barbara and what it means to be inducted into the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara. Only the most competent professionals who show the utmost standards of integrity and moral character while serving selflessly receive this honor. It is no small measure and must be approved by the Field artillery commander. Gatrell demonstrated these qualities and many others throughout his career of service and as an example to his posterity that has followed in his footsteps.
The legend of Saint Barbara states that she was the beautiful daughter of Dioscorus of the Roman Empire. He did not want to lose his daughter to marriage, so he encouraged paganism and kept her in a tower. Dioscorus was having a bathhouse built for her with two windows. While he was away, Barbara changed the design to add another window which represented her Christian belief and baptism. Her father was livid and brought her before the city prefect, Martianus, who tortured her and gave her the judgment of execution when she refused to denounce her Christianity. Her father tortured her, took her to a mountain top, and beheaded her. As Dioscorus descended the mountain, a violent storm erupted, and he was struck down by lightning. As consequence, Barbara became the patron saint to those in danger of thunderstorms, fire, explosions and sudden death. As it was common for early cannons to have misfires, muzzle bursts, or weapon explosions, the artillerymen sought the protection of Saint Barbara. Today, artillerymen and women still seek her protection. Those who serve with loyalty, selfless service and exemplify the qualities of Saint Barbara are recommended for induction into the Honorable Order of Saint Barbara.
Gatrell has exemplified many of the characteristics of Saint Barbara. He served in both World War II and the Korean War. He received many awards for his commendable service. As a first lieutenant, Gatrell received the Silver Star for gallantry in action against an armed enemy on Nov. 26, 1950, in the vicinity of Kunu-ri, Korea. He was directing his men on tanks when he was wounded by enemy fire. While moving down the Chongchon River beach, one of his men was wounded by intense fire and fell from the tank. He ordered the tanks to stop and refused to leave the fallen Soldier. He dismounted his tank and returned to the wounded Soldier carrying him back to the tank. He does not know if the Soldier lived or died. He refused treatment until his wounded men received care. He received a Bronze Star Medal with “V” (valor) device during the Korean War for his meritorious service in connection with military operations against armed enemy for actions during Aug. 4 to Sept. 5, 1950.
He received a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster in lieu of a second award of the Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” device as a first lLieutenant for his actions in Feb. 14-17, 1951. His heroism and valor were shown when he exposed himself in the vicinity of Chipyong-ni, Korea as he fearlessly moved from position to position to advise and encourage his men as they supported with point-blank artillery fire. He inspired his Soldiers and saved many lives. These are just a few of the many awards that he received for his service over the years. His gallantry in battle is the epitome of the spirit of Saint Barbara.
When asked what advice he would give to young Artillery Officers, Gatrell answered, “Buy low, sell high.”
When asked what your advice is for a long, happy life or what attributed to being able to live to be a hundred years old, he says “Wake up one more morning, then you go to sleep, then you keep that up for a hundred years.”
He did not keep a diary or journal of his many adventures but has told the stories to his children and grandchildren. He did not have any parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents who served in the military and was unsure if any of his ancestors had served prior to him. His posterity continues his legacy of service with two of his children having served in the Army, one in the Navy, and one in the Marine Corps. He has several grandchildren in the military, to include three Army grandchildren, two in the Navy and one in the Air Force.
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