While Bill Hartman prefers to be called “Uncle Bill” by his fellow residents and the staff of Beehive Homes of Gainesville, those at a ceremony Wednesday afternoon recognizing him for his military service called him “Commander Hartman.”
Hartman, 94, is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, serving as a U.S. Navy pilot in both. He started as a lieutenant junior grade and eventually ended his military career with the rank of commander.
Jeff Blackwell, who worked with officials at Beehive to organize the event, said the ceremony honored Hartman, as well as all who who have served in the military. He remembered a recent conversation he had with the honoree.
“I said, ‘Commander Hartman, you deserve this.’ He looked me in the eye with tears and he said, ‘Jeff, I don’t deserve this anymore than any other man who ever wore a uniform for our country,’” Blackwell recalled. “I said, ‘You’re exactly right and you’re representing every person of every age who ever served our country in the armed forces.’ So we’re not just honoring Bill; we’re honoring all veterans.”
Hartman was just a few months past his 20th birthday when he joined the Navy on July 2, 1943. He served stateside as a trainer at the Navy Flight School and Ground School located at the Olathe Naval Air Station, in Fairfax Field, Kansas, and said he was also in San Diego.
He left the Navy after World War II, but was recalled to active duty in February 1951 and was assigned to the U.S.S. Valley Forge during the Korean conflict. In Korea, Hartman was part of the Naval Reserve Squadron, also known as “The Flying Circus,” a team of pilots who flew Consair F4U fighter planes on often dangerous low-level missions, according to information provided by Blackwell. Hartman said his plane was hit by enemy fire once, but he escaped.
“It hit the oil cooler,” he said. “I turned it off.” He said he eventually made it back to the U.S.S. Valley Forge safely.
Hartman did not continue as a pilot after leaving the military because of new planes that would have required more training. He said the thing he enjoyed most about his time in the military was “flying the twin-engine planes.”
Former U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, who also served in the Navy, saluted “my fellow commander, my fellow sailor and my fellow warrior.”
“We’re here to honor Commander Bill Hartman for his service and to honor all those who served by wearing the colors and the uniform of this country and those in that generation who came together to save our country from a tremendous existential threat,” Broun said.
In addition to a luncheon for the residents, a cake in Hartman’s honor and the recognition for his service, Hartman also received certificates of appreciation from recruiting offices of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marines.
While others addressed Hartman by his military title, Beehive administrator Nayna Parikh used the more familiar name at the residence, thanking those in attendance for “making this a special day for Uncle Bill.”
“He likes to be called Uncle Bill and we call him Uncle Bill,” Parikh said afterwards. “That puts a smile on his face.”