A Utah WWII veteran dies at age 101

Wallace Gatrell lived in Farmington, and witnessed a century’s worth of history.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wallace Gatrell, 101, is interviewed in his home in Farmington, Monday, April 25, 2022.

Wallace Gatrell, a World War II veteran and Utahn who witnessed a century of history, has died at age 101.

Gatrell, who lived in Farmington, died Tuesday, according to his granddaughter, Deborah Gatrell, who posted on Twitter that “COVID took my Grandpa Gatrell this afternoon.”

Gatrell was born in Utah in 1921. He and his wife, Ruth — who died in 2017 at age 95 — together raised eight children, had 45 grandchildren and over 200 members of extended family.

His home in Farmington contained relics and memories of that well-lived life. Over his 100 years, Gatrell was witness to landmarks of invention and history — some of which matched predictions made in 1922 by British novelist W. L. George.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) A 1995 portrait of Wallace Gatrell, now 101, and his late wife Ruth, sits next to his military accolades in his home in Farmington, Monday, April 25, 2022.

Gatrell was enrolled in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) at Salt Lake City’s West High School and at the University of Utah. He joined the Utah National Guard as World War II was building up in Europe and the Pacific.

Eventually, he was among the first group of soldiers that arrived in Hawaii after the Japanese military’s attack on Pearl Harbor, on board the USS Tasker H. Bliss, a troop transport. During his time in the military, Gatrell received a Purple Heart, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars, among other decorations.

Speaking to The Tribune this spring, two of Gatrell’s children — Garth Gatrell and Tamara Van Tassell — said what stuck with their father throughout his time served and life was, in Wallace’s words, “my Ruth.”

“Sometime in [1944] she wrote a letter and said, ‘I guess you’re the right person,’” Garth said. When Wallace Gatrell got off the boat in San Francisco, he pulled out a handful of quarters and told the operator to let him know when he ran out of money. When he did run out of quarters, the operator didn’t cut him off.

Ten days after he and Ruth had their phone conversation, they got married.

The wedding was rushed, the kids said, because their parents were worried Wallace would get shipped out again. During the reception, Wallace’s brother told him that he had gotten a call saying to report the following Monday to be discharged.

Wallace Gatrell went to work with a railroad company, but after a strike that lasted 100 days, he enlisted once more — so his growing family would have a steady source of income.

Wallace was ready to go meet his Ruth again, according to Tamara and Deborah. “He realizes they don’t teach you how to die as well as they teach you how to live,” his daughter told The Tribune last spring.

The secret to long life is simple, according to Wallace Gatrell: “You wake up one morning after you go to sleep. [Then] you do that for 100 years.”