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Bobbi Sheets Column: Fetz Hartsell helped fellow veterans

Why do you pass out Buddy Poppies?

Is it to help other veterans through the relief fund? Were you just asked to be there or that no one else could do it?

Maybe it’s just because it is something you always do on Memorial Day.

These are some of the answers that I hear when I ask fellow comrades.

One veteran who was fond of the poppy practice was Fetzer Hartsell, who died Dec. 3 at age 92.

Fetzer Hartsell

When I would ask Fetzer Hartsell as to why he handed out poppies, his answer was “I do it for De Quaisie!”

Fetz Hartsell did it for all the men aboard the Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) 600 that was lost to a Japanese Kaiten, a suicide torpedo sometimes referred to as a Midget sub, on Jan. 12, 1945. The poppy drive meant something to him. He thought about those lost on that day when he passed out the poppies. He did it in remembrance of them to benefit the living.

You see Hartsell was supposed to be on the LCI 416 that was mined and sunk off Omaha Beach, Normandy on June 7, 1944, but they were outfitting it during a blizzard and Hartsell ended up in the hospital. The LCI 416 left without him.

Soon after Hartsell deployed on the LCI 600, which was in a convoy of 21 ships in the Pacific. The LCI 600 was ordered to stay back with a ship that was having engine problems.

On Jan. 12 1945, in the Ulithi Lagoon, Caroline Islands, the LCI 600 was anchored by the USS MAZAMA, an ammunition ship. When alerted that the Japanese had dropped torpedoes, the LCI 600 was ordered to General Quarters.

Hartsell was in Turret Gun No. 1 when they were struck by the Kaiten.

Hartsell was thrown over the turret gun backwards, ending up one deck below on the inside of the four-foot wall that kept him from rolling into the ocean.

He was regaining consciousness, as the medic, whom he knew, placed the cross with blood on his forehead. With his arm pierced, in a tourniquet, he was hoisted onto a hospital ship.

As he looked around, he thought everything was going to be alright, but then he realized he and one other person were the only ones on that hospital ship.

After being examined, the medical team realized that his arm was the least of Hartsell’s medical problems. He lost his leg just above the knee during the incident.

He said he always remembered the nurse telling him he could sit on a street corner and sell pencils. That statement always pushed Hartsell to do his best at everything.

Hartsell was a member of the VFW since 1957. He and his wife Betty were married for 62 years. Betty has been a member of the VFW Auxiliary for the last six years.

When asked about why she decided to join, she said that her brother, Jimmy Kluttz, another World War II veteran, told her that the Auxiliary was in trouble and needed people.

When asked about why she stayed, she said because after she joined she realized that the organization does so much to help so many people. The VFW and Auxiliary have different programs, but they complement each other.

We both reach people young and old. We both are there to help veterans and must be true to our word. If we say we will help or be there, we will be.

Every year, on Memorial Day, in Oakboro at the Food Lion, you would find Fetz Hartsell and his wife Betty passing out Buddy Poppies. They did it for Glen De Quasie and fellow shipmates lost that day in the Caroline Islands.

So, from this day forward when you do a Buddy Poppy drive, think about why you are there. Do it for the ones we lost to help the ones we could have lost.

Bobbi Sheets is the commander of VFW Post 6365 in Locust.