The best of the Greatest Generation, Victor H. “Bart” Bartolome, our beloved husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and friend, passed away on July 26 at his home in Santa Barbara, with his loving wife of 67 years at his side.
Bart was born June 21, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, to Antonio and Dosolina (Gemignani) Bartolomei. He attended Augustana College in Rock Island, where he excelled in all sports, but especially track-and-field and football. As World War II loomed, in July 1941, Bart left school and enlisted in the Army Air Corps to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.
It was during primary training at Santa Maria that he met his future wife and life-long companion, Isabel Hayden. She was a member of the Co-eddettes, a group of proper young ladies from Santa Barbara who organized dances for the many servicemen who found themselves far from home, family, and friends. Their courtship continued through Bart’s basic and advanced training. He received his pilot’s wings on February 23, 1942, at Stockton Field. Immediately afterward, the war and a trek around the world began for Bart and the other 28 officers and 81 enlisted men of the 513th Heavy Bombardment squadron. In ten B-17E bombers and until March 1943, when the 513th was dissolved, each crew logged between 150,000 to 200,000 miles.
The squadron’s first mission was to ferry their planes from California to Karachi, India, but they had to fly east to get there as parts of the Pacific Ocean were under Japanese military control. Using Pan American Airways maps and navigators just weeks out of advanced training, they made the treacherous journey from South America to Africa, with all planes landing safely at their new base in India. Except for one week of “vacation” in Cyprus, and one month downtime for repairs, the 513th was in continuous action against Japanese, German, and Italian targets in India, Burma, China, Palestine, Egypt, Tripoli, Algeria, and Tunisia.
It was during a mission over Bizerte, Tunisia, that Bart’s flying war ended. On January 26, 1943, shrapnel from German anti-aircraft struck both Bart and his copilot; however, Bart’s injury was by far the worse. He lost his left eye. He was evacuated to a hospital in England, then later boarded the Queen Mary in May 1943 to New York for reconstructive surgeries. Also on board was Winston Churchill, making one of several trips to America to visit President Roosevelt. Bart and Winston did not meet aboard ship, but if they had, Bart would have queried the British PM about his political leanings, whether he be a Democrat or Republican. Bart received two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, but the decoration he cherished most was the wedding ring placed on his finger by Isabel on August 1, 1943, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Santa Barbara.
Bart was a building contractor after the war, a right-of-way engineer for the City of Santa Barbara, and served five years as the airport manager of the Santa Barbara Airport. He owned Bartham and Associates, an art appraisal business, for many years until his retirement. He was an avid book collector and a patron of the arts, and was loving and supportive to his family and friends until the end.
Bart is survived by his wife, Isabel; his sons, James (Dena) and Victor (Barbara); and his daughter Marjorie McWilliams (Steve). His grandchildren are Nathan (Wendy), Matthew, Colin, Erin (Summer), Victor “Tory,” Juli Lippire, Scott Miller, Joel and Marcail McWilliams. Bart’s great-grandchildren are Katelyn and Reese Isabel. The family wishes to thank our devoted caregivers, Alma Alvarez and Berenice Morales, and for the support rendered by Visiting Nurse and Hospice Care.