WW II / Korea
Lieutenant Colonel Wallace Gatrell enlisted in the Utah National Guard in 1938. Except for a brief gap following World War II, he served in the Army as an ROTC cadet, enlisted Soldier, warrant officer, and commissioned officer, mostly in field artillery and then finance, until he retired in 1972.
Gatrell began attending the University of Utah as an ROTC cadet in fall 1938, but his studies were interrupted in March 1941 when the 145th Field Artillery Battalion was called to active duty. On December 23, the battalion arrived in Hawaii as the first reinforcements following the attack on Pearl Harbor. They emplaced artillery to defend the island against any Japanese landings. In fall 1942, Gatrell became a Warrant Officer, and soon after, the 145th took part in numerous key battles and campaigns including the Battles of Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, the Philippines, and Okinawa. Gatrell jokes that his most serious injuries were on Saipan, where he cut his finger with his own bayonet and a centipede bit him. At the end of the war, Gatrell left the military, but he reenlisted six months later in 1946.
In January 1949, Second Lieutenant Gatrell was assigned to the 37th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, the first stateside American unit sent to Korea when the war broke out, arriving there in July 1950. Gatrell ran convoys, served as a forward observer, and led firing batteries. In November 1950, Chinese troops poured into Korea, forcing United Nations forces south. As Gatrell and his team were riding on a retreating tank, a wounded soldier fell off. Gatrell stopped the tank, yelling, “We’re not leaving him here!” Although previously wounded himself, he jumped off the tank and ran to the wounded Soldier, only to find that no one else got off the tank to help. The tank backed up and other Soldiers helped lift the Soldier onto the tank. In addition to the Purple Heart, Gatrell received the Silver Star for his heroism.
In February 1951, Gatrell was serving as a forward observer attached to an infantry regiment that became surrounded by the Chinese. Gatrell said, “I knew we were in trouble when they had me orient our four artillery pieces in all four directions.” During the fight, Gatrell moved from one position to another, directing his men as they engaged the enemy with near point-blank artillery fire. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star with “V” device for valor.
Before retiring, LTC Gatrell served in a variety of field artillery and finance commands in the U.S. and abroad. Over the course of his long career, he received many other decorations including another Bronze Star, with oak leaf cluster, and the Meritorious Service Medal.