Marion Hartse of Baker was among the 77 World War II veterans who participated in an all-expense paid, two day visit (May 11-12) to the nation’s capital. The trip was the ninth and final tour of the Big Sky Honor Flight program, which honors the men and women who served in World War II.
Posted Friday, May 23, 2o14
By Lori Kesinger Marion Hartse of Baker was among the 77 World War II veterans who participated in an all-expense paid, two day visit (May 11-12) to the nation’s capital. The trip was the ninth and final tour of the Big Sky Honor Flight program, which honors the men and women who served in World War II.
Hartse, at age 20, was drafted out of Wibaux County in 1944 destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. (Edwin Hartse served in World War I in 1917 and was wounded in France. He returned to the United States in 1918 and was awarded the Purple Heart.) Hartse chose to enter the Navy rather than become a paratrooper. He was sent to California to the San Diego Naval Training Center for ten weeks, came home on a five day leave, then returned to San Diego. He was assigned to the USS Saginaw Bay CVE-82, an aircraft carrier referred to as the “Kaiser Coffin”.
The carrier participated in the pre-invasion strikes against Okinawa and supported American forces ashore. The carrier was considered a flag ship and was highly targeted. The crew faced numerous Japanese bombers. The crew shot down one of the bombers which tore across the deck of the carrier, causing extensive damage. The carrier provided support through the invasion and returned to San Diego for repairs. It went back out to sea carrying a new load of aircraft.
Hartse held the position of boiler fireman in the ship’s power plant operations. The safety of the ship depended, to a considerable degree, on the engine room crew and their competency. As a fireman, Hartse could not allow the water level in the boilers to drop below the lowest safe point or serious damage could have occurred with the loss of use of the boilers and the stoppage of the ship’s engine. “A fireman allowing the level to drop below the lowest safe point could have been court-martialed and imprisoned,” Hartse said.
Hartse endured a harrowing time as the fireman when the ship endured the onslaught of a typhoon that hit Okinawa during their mission. The rough seas caused the boiler levels to fluctuate drastically. He had no idea where the levels were, so he kept them overfull and maintained full operations of the boilers to keep the ship fully powered.
The ship was decommissioned in Boston in 1946. Hartse was sent to St. Louis, Missouri for discharge in the same year. The Saginaw Bay carrier earned five battle stars for World War II service. Hartse, escorted by his daughter Marilyn Boone, flew out of Billings May 11 to Dulles International Airport where a cheering crowd of hundreds greeted the veterans. They visited the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Vietnam War Memorial and took a bus tour through the capital viewing several landmarks and government buildings. The Big Sky Honor Flight held a banquet in honor of the veterans in the evening.
The morning of May 12, the veterans were greeted at the World War II Memorial by Montana Senators John Walsh and Jon Tester, who placed the Big Sky Honor Flight wreath in front of the Montana Memorial. “It was such an honor to see the World War II Memorial,” Hartse said. Many strangers touring the site at the same time as the veterans stood in line to shake their hands.
The group then made stops at the Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Iwo Jima Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. On the way to the airport, the veterans heard those important words again, “Mail Call” – Hartse received numerous letters and cards from friends and family across the nation.
“When we got back to Billings, the airport was jam packed we could barely get through,” Hartse said. Hundreds of cheering supporters and bagpipe players greeted the veterans on their return. “Everything was so perfect on that trip,” Hartse concluded.