Billy Gartman was born in 1932 in Mississippi. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on April 27, 1951, and completed basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas, in July 1951. After attending aircraft maintenance school at Sheppard AFB, Texas, he served with the 9th Air Refueling Squadron at Davis Monthan AFB, Arizona, from January 1952 to July 1953, followed by service as a crew chief with the 91st Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron in Korea from July 1953 to August 1954. Sgt Gartman's next assignment was as a crew chief with the 345th Bomb Squadron at Lincoln AFB, Nebraska, from September 1954 to January 1955, and then with the 320th Air Refueling Squadron of the 320th Bomb Wing at March AFB, California, from January 1955 until he left active duty on April 26, 1955. SSgt Gartman reenlisted in the Air Force on July 15, 1955, and then trained as a flight engineer. He served with the 3204th Maintenance and Supply Group at Eglin AFB, Florida, from April 1957 to March 1958, and then with the 483rd Flight Line Maintenance Squadron at Ashiya AB, Japan, from April 1958 to December 1959. His next assignment was as a C-130 Hercules flight engineer with the 817th Troop Carrier Squadron at Ashiya AB from December 1959 to April 1960, and then with the 815th Troop Carrier Squadron at Tachikawa AB, Japan, from April 1960 to July 1962. TSgt Gartman served as an aircraft maintenance technician with the 1611th Air Transport Wing at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, from July 1962 to January 1966, and then as an HC-130 flight engineer with the 36th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Tachikawa AB, Japan, from January 1966 to September 1969. His next assignment was as an HC-130 flight engineer with the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Training Center at Eglin AFB from September 1969 to August 1970, followed by service as an HC-130 flight engineer with the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Tuy Hoa and then Cam Ranh Bay AB, South Vietnam, from August 1970 to July 1971. During this time, MSgt Gartman served as flight engineer aboard the HC-130P "Lime Two" during the Son Tay Raid, a clandestine mission to rescue American Prisoners of War in North Vietnam on November 21, 1970. His final assignment was with Detachment 36, 6590th Support Squadron, at Eglin AFB from July 1971 until his retirement from the Air Force on August 1, 1973.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
Master Sergeant Billy E. Gartman distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force in Southeast Asia on 21 November 1970. On that date, Sergeant Gartman flew as a Flight Engineer aboard an HC-130P aircraft in support of the Son Tay Prisoner of War Camp Raid under the cover of darkness deep within hostile territory. His superb aerial ability aided immeasurably in the extremely low level aerial refueling of the rescue helicopters despite the constant threat of hostile ground fire and air-to-air attacks. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Sergeant Gartman has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.