A Different Kind Of War Story

Growing up CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman knew almost nothing of his father George Hartman's service in World War Two. In honor of Memorial Day, he went home to get the story.


Once I overheard him say something about coming home with a mouthful of metal. And there were some other clues hidden way up in the attic of our house.

Just from poking around up here as a kid, I knew my dad was in the Army's 32nd Red Arrow Division. I knew he was awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge for serving in the Phillipines. And I could only assume, at some point, he got close enough to the Japanese to capture a flag found in a box.

Even more intriguing was an article I found in the local paper. It was written from an official Army press release touting my father's heroism.

"Private George Hartman, while under enemy fire, used TNT, dynamite and flame throwers to blast enemy troops from their caves high in the mountains of Luzon," the article reads.

Unfortunately, the release got a few things wrong.

"You never used a flamethrower?" I asked my father.

"Nope. Never saw one," dad said.

"TNT?"

"Nope," he said.

"Dynamite?"

"Nope," he answered.

Actually, they got most things wrong. The whole writeup was just Army propaganda, meant to boost morale back home in Toledo.

"What in here is true?"

"My name," he said with a laugh.

The truth is my dad spent most of his time working in a PX, selling candy bars and what not. Which finally explains the mouthful of metal. Dental records show dad got 12 cavities during the war.

As for the flag?

"Maybe I bought it, I don't know," he said.

Turns out my dad never talked about the war -- not because it was too hard for him, but because it was too boring. This wasn't exactly the Hollywood movie I was hoping to find. Although I still kind of think there's a hero here.

In August of 1945, no one in the 32nd Division was in the Phillipines for the candy bars.

"We were going to invade Japan like they did Normandy," dad said. "I honestly believe if Harry Truman hadn't dropped the two bombs, the atomic bombs, that I wouldn't be here today - because I was a young soldier in the infantry division which was going to hit the beaches like they did at Normandy and a lot of them didn't come back."

Sometimes, the only thing that separates the living from the dead is circumstance.

"It's just a part of life, some of us live and some of us die," dad said.

Sometimes, the only difference between a hero and an Average Joe is opportunity.

Of course, Memorial Day is about honoring those who gave their lives to this country. But this year I'll also be taking a second to appreciate the many more, for whatever reason, didn't have to.
  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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