Gainesville resident Norman Hartman, Navy vet, enjoys Honor Flight to D.C.
Wednesday, Aug. 23, wasn't just a red-letter day for Gainesville resident Norman Hartman. It was a red-white-and-blue-letter day when he soared to Washington, D.C., on an Honor Flight of the Ozarks in recognition of his military service in the 1950s and 60s.
Norman, 86, said his grandson Dylan Scott called him a few months ago and asked if he'd like to go on an Honor Flight.
"Sure!" Norman answered.
Norman was further encouraged to go when he talked to his brother, Mike, in Illinois. Mike had been on an Honor Flight from there and urged Norman to go.
Dylan enrolled his grandpa for the program, which takes older veterans to the nation's capital to visit war memorials and other historic sights there. Dylan and Norman were assigned the Aug. 23 trip. Dylan, a 2017 Gainesville High School graduate who now works as a lineman for Capital Electric company in Sedalia, would be Norman's designated guardian-escort.
Joining the Navy – by default
Norman grew up in Illinois – born in Freeport in 1937 and graduating from high school in 1955 in Shannon. After high school, he went to work for a year. "Then one day me and a bunch of my buddies were going to join the Air Force. But when we got to the recruiting offices, the Air Force guy wasn't there. But the Navy recruiter was. The other guys walked on by, but the Navy guy said, 'Come on in. Let's talk.' And that's how I joined the Navy," Norman said.
The first person in his family to serve in the military, Norman was assigned to the USS Bennington, a naval aircraft carrier, after completing boot camp. Onboard the Bennngton, he worked as a boilerman. "I made the steam for power and to make drinkable water out of seawater," he said.
After four years of sea duty, including stops in Japan, Norman was sent for training at the Navy's nuclear power school in Idaho Falls, Idaho. "I had six months of training. Then I got to stay on to train other guys," he said.
He spent four years in Idaho and then was assigned to another carrier, the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise. "They flew me to the East Coast. And then I flew on out to the Enterprise," he said. Again he worked in the boiler room, but aboard the Enterprise, "instead of oil, we were powered by nuclear reaction," he said.
The Enterprise was heading for Germany, Norman said, "but a week after I got on there, they changed their mind and said, 'We're going to Vietnam.' So we went around the Horn and on across the Pacific to Vietnam."
Most of the time, the Enterprise was stationed within sight of the Vietnam coast, launching military aircraft in those early days of the Vietnam War, Norman said, adding, "We sent the planes over there to take care of stuff."
He was honorably discharged in 1966, 10 years after the Navy recruiter had invited him in to talk.
Retiring in Ozark County
After his Navy years, Norman worked for Reynolds Metals, maker of Reynolds Wrap, among other things. He first worked in Torrance, California, and later transferred to upstate New York before transferring back to the San Diego area, where he retired in the late 1980s. Through the years, he said, he "worked my way up to Big Wig [quality control manager]" after beginning as "a regular dude trying to learn what was going on."
After his retirement, Norman's brother, Mike, suggested he consider retiring in a place Mike had discovered. "Why don't you retire on Bull Shoals?" he asked Norman.
"I said, 'Where's that?'" Norman answered.
Mike had traveled through the area and "liked the country and the way people were here," Norman said.
Norman and his first wife, Kelly, bought a lake house on Noland's Point, near Ocie, around 1994. Kelly died in 2002.
As an Ozark County resident, Norman became a devoted volunteer with the Senior Citizens of Ozark County while Gerry Williamson was the administrator there. (Gerry also worked as a home economics teacher at Gainesville High School for 15 years.)
For 20 years, Norman served the Senior Citizens Center as a volunteer tax-preparation assistant and home-delivered meals driver. He also drove older residents to medical and other appointments and did assorted other jobs as needed.
Norman and Kelly had had no children, but when he and Gerry were married in 2004, Norman immediately claimed Gerry's five adult children and their families as his own. Together, Gerry and Norman raised two of their grandchildren, Ashley and Isaac. The Hartmans now live in Gainesville.
The Honor Flight
On the day of his Honor Flight, Norman and the 80-plus other veterans and escorts making the trip had to be at Springfield-Branson National Airport at 2:30 a.m. When Gerry asked their Honor Flight contact person if it was really necessary to be there that early, the woman told Gerry, "Oh, honey, it takes every minute of that to get these old guys signed up and on the plane so they can leave at 5 a.m.''
The Hartmans stayed in a Springfield hotel so they could be at the airport on time.
The veterans and their guardians were given ball caps and red and blue T-shirts to wear – blue for the veterans, red for their guardians. The nonstop flight on the Sun Country charter flight from Springfield to Washington took two hours and 15 minutes. They enjoyed donuts and other breakfast items on the way.
At Ronald Reagan-Washington National Airport, the veterans and their guardians were loaded onto four buses, and their first stop was the World War II Memorial on the National Mall. Dylan, Norman's grandson and escort, said two members of the group were World War II veterans. One was "right at 100 or so, and the other was 97 or 98," he said. A bagpiper played music as the veterans moved around the large, circular memorial, finding the monuments to the state where they enlisted. Dylan took Norman's photo in front of the Illinois marker.
The veterans posed for a group photo and then climbed back onto the buses for a quick ride to the nearby FDR Memorial. There they sat on low masonry walls in the shade and enjoyed sack lunches from Arby's fast-food restaurant.
The next stop was at the Lincoln Memorial, which is within walking distance of the memorials to veterans of the Vietnam and Korea wars. Dylan said several of the veterans "had buddies whose names were on the wall" at the Vietnam memorial, and some of them took the time to find and, if they could, touch the names.
One of the most somber parts of the day was at the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. "The soldiers were very sharp in their movements," Dylan said, adding that he'd been impressed that they "take 21 steps, then wait 21 seconds, then another 21 steps back," with the number associated with the 21-gun salute, the military's highest honor. He also said they were told that the members of the Tomb Guard wear no rank to ensure they do not outrank the unknown hero in the tomb.
The group's last stop was at the Marine Corps' Iwo Jima memorial, and then they headed back to the airport. "We got a police escort," Dylan said. "I guess they shut down the Interstate for us. And it was rush hour."
Before departure, they were treated to another Arby's meal, and once they were in the air, headed home, all the veterans were given envelopes of letters and cards during "Mail Call." Gerry had contacted family and friends beforehand asking them to send notes and cards. "I passed out the address to everyone I knew," Gerry said.
"I was the next to last one to have my name called," Norman said. "I didn't expect mail. But people had sent in cards and letters, and they were all in this big envelope. There 75 cards in there!"
A large crowd was waiting at the Springfield airport to welcome the veterans home: "The aisle was lined with people from the back of the terminal all the way to the front," said Gerry, a member of the cheering throng who called the welcome "about the most exciting thing I've ever seen."
The crowd included not only friends and relatives but also a color guard, a band, state troopers, police officers, men and women in uniform, a camera crew from KY3-TV and residents with no connection to the event who simply wanted to show appreciation to the veterans.
"The wheelchairs came out first," Gerry said. "And the first man – he was probably 25 to 30 feet from me – he came in and looked around, and he started crying. He cried all the way down the line. A lot of the others did too."
Meanwhile, she said, Norman was “doing what he always does – shaking every hand and hugging every lady he could."
Exhausted but happy, Norman and Gerry returned to their Springfield hotel for an overnight stay. Dylan drove home to Sedalia. He was tired too, especially because, "there were three of us young guys who were escorts, and we helped load and unload all the wheelchairs off the bus every time," he said. The Honor Flight was his first trip to Washington, D. C., and also his first flight on an airplane. But he was happy to have helped Norman enjoy such a memorable day.
Norman, who had driven through Washington, D. C., before but hadn't really visited, kept telling Dylan "all day long how much he was enjoying it," Dylan said.
"The whole thing was fabulous," Norman confirmed.
Gerry noted that Honor Flight is "totally supported by donations," adding, "It's a wonderful thing to support."
Honor Flight of the Ozarks is open to veterans who served during the years of World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Shield / Desert Storm campaigns. Having served in-country is not necessary to qualify. The next Honor Flight is Oct. 25. Escorts pay $500 for their expenses, but veterans pay nothing for the trip. For more information or to donate, visit honorflightoftheozarks.org or call 417-268-9052.