Veteran who flew missions in three wars is still patrolling the skies
The Record (Hackensack N.J.)
LINCOLN PARK, N.J. — Sixty-eight years since he was first catapulted from a World War II aircraft carrier while strapped in an F4F Wildcat fighter, John “Bart” Barteluce of Mahwah, N.J., hasn’t lost his taste for the wild blue yonder.
The 89-year-old grandfather and decorated veteran of three wars is still flying.
He’s the oldest crew member of Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 10-01, whose 1st Southern Region planes fly security patrols each day, extending from the Canadian border to the Manasquan Inlet.
And Barteluce, who will be 90 on Aug. 29, has no intention of retiring.
“I’m going to go on as long as I can,” he said before he was honored Monday as a patriot by the Coast Guard at the flotilla’s monthly meeting at Lincoln Park Airport.
“The guy’s a legend, a national treasure,” said Eric Fields, 74, of Upper Saddle River, N.J., a senior pilot for the 1st Southern Region.
For those too young to remember World War II, the Wildcat was the tough and scrappy fighter plane that carried the day at the critical Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 and again at the Battle of Midway in June 1942. Those two sea battles shattered Japan’s expansion strategy after its attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and marked decisive turning points in the war in the Pacific.
As a pilot on a small carrier — called a “jeep” or “baby” carrier — Barteluce protected vital supply vessels such as oilers and ammunition ships that replenished the big carriers.
In one engagement, he recalled, a Japanese twin-engine Mitsubishi airplane got too close to his group and “I chased him away … he outran us.”
As dangerous as the Pacific Theater was, Barteluce said his hairiest moment came during carrier qualification at the Glenview Naval Air Station in Illinois.
“When you made that first landing, you were so relieved,” he said.
Barteluce later flew two more World War II legends, the F-6F Hellcat and F-4U Corsair. In Korea, he flew F-9F Panther and F-2H Banshee jets.
Described by friends as modest, Barteluce was recommended for his actions at Wonsan Harbor in Korea, where he circled over a downed pilot until a rescue chopper arrived. He dismissed the incident as “overblown.”
In Vietnam, he flew transports, ferrying troops, supplies, Navy brass and U.S. diplomats such as Ellsworth Bunker, the ambassador to South Vietnam.
Barteluce, piloting a Navy S-2F Tracker transport plane, flew astronaut Gus Grissom to Grand Bahama after Grissom’s ill-fated splashdown in July 1961 when Grissom’s capsule filled with water and sank. He gave Grissom the opportunity to fly as co-pilot on a carrier takeoff.
“He really liked that,” Barteluce said.
After a 30-year Naval career, Barteluce could have rested on his laurels at his beloved “Bart’s Acres” home in Mahwah.
Instead, he volunteered for the Coast Guard auxiliary in March 2001 at a time when there was a dire need for personnel. He never mentioned his Air Medals for 50 combat missions or his Philippine Liberation Medal, Korean Service Medal, or Vietnam Service Medal.
But auxiliary officers quickly found out he was special.
“I have 10,000 (flying) hours — he makes me feel like a rank amateur,” Fields said. “He is probably the most capable pilot I’ve seen in my life.”
And after four wars and 27,000-plus flying hours, Barteluce has few regrets.
“I’m counting my blessings,” he said.