Local Vietnam veteran assists others through VFW program
Monday, March 26, 2012
The bond forged through military service — often under strenuous circumstances — carries forth into a veteran’s civilian endeavors seeking to ensure that no comrade is forgotten in a time of need.
Local veteran Tom Hartman’s own history of military service during the Vietnam War has resulted in his involvement in a program helping veterans who may need assistance.
Leaving Jefferson City in December 1967, Hartman recalls the local difficulties facing a teenager at the time and his journey to becoming a veteran.
“Jobs were kind of difficult to find,” recalled Hartman. “I wanted a break from the local routine, so I decided to join the Navy.”
Completing 12 weeks of initial training in San Diego, Hartman was assigned to the USS Brinkley Bass in April 1968, a Gearing-class destroyer.
Working in the ship’s engine room, Hartman said he had one of the dirtiest jobs in the entire Navy.
“The ship operated on black oil and our job was to keep the engines maintained; it was hot and miserable,” he said.
“My optimistic view of the military life was fast going downhill.”
Following six weeks of training, the ship traveled to Vietnam. Soon after they were under way, Hartman was transferred to the ship’s “Gun Gang.”
His new duties included “just about anything to do with munitions,” such as operating, firing and maintaining the ship’s 5-inch guns.
Throughout his time aboard the vessel, Hartman was able to participate in several military operations, most notably the Tet Offensive.
“During Tet, we were firing almost nonstop,” he said. “In one week, we fired over 4,000 rounds. We spent 4 hours on (the firing line) and four hours off in order to keep things going.”
In addition to the difficult conditions under a combat setting, the weather provided its own unique set of challenges.
“I’ll never forget those rough seas,” Hartman said. “We went through several typhoons, and there were times when the whole bow of the ship would disappear under water and cover the bridge, shake the ship and slam back down.
“You always wondered when the ship was going to just break apart, seeing how it was built during the Second World War,” he added.
After three six-month tours aboard the Brinkley Bass, Hartman decided to return to civilian life and left the Navy in October 1971.
He was hired by the U.S. Postal Service in Jefferson City in 1972, where he remained until retiring in 2004.
In the years following his release from the Navy, he joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), but remained inactive as he felt Vietnam Veterans weren’t welcome in the organization.
But in 1989, a new VFW post was being built in St. Martins, and a friend told him the environment in the organization had changed.
“I was impressed with the work they were doing to support veterans and became active in the organization,” Hartman said.
Increasing his involvement, Hartman went on to serve as a post commander, district commander and was elected the state commander in 2008.
In 2009, he became the chair of the Missouri Veterans Foundation — a charitable entity under the VFW with its main purpose to support veterans, their children and families who may be in a crisis.
“We’ve had requests from veterans who have experienced problems covering medical bills or paying their rent due to an unforeseen emergency; that’s where we step in to help.”
Having served under stressful conditions and witnessing the difficulties many of his fellow veterans have encountered, Hartman stresses the importance of programs offered by organizations such as the VFW.
“There are veterans out there in our communities who really need our help,” Hartman said.
“They were willing to make a sacrifice for this country and I’m proud that I am able to connect with them through my own service, and find resources necessary to assist when the need arises.”
Jeremy P. Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.