Milton J. Hart Jr.

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Milton J. Hart Jr. is handed a rose during a 2020 ceremony in Berne honoring World War II veterans.

DELMAR — Milton J. Hart Jr., a World War II veteran and devoted family man, was the longtime owner of the Agway in Berne.

He died peacefully on Monday, Feb. 7, 2022, the day after his 96th birthday.

Born on Feb. 6, 1926, in Albany, he was the only son of the late Milton J. and Eugenia (née Willsey) Hart. He was the beloved husband of Ruth Bridger Hart with whom he shared 62 years of marriage.

Mr. Hart, after being in the first class to graduate from centralized Berne-Knox High School in 1944, joined the United States Army at age 18, serving in the 20th Armored Division. He received several awards including the Combat Infantry Badge and the Bronze Star.

In 1945, he helped liberate Dachau, one of the most notorious of Adolf Hitler’s heinous concentration camps.

“I tear up every time I think about the rail cars loaded up with bodies,” Mr. Hart said in an Enterprise podcast in 2020. “They were like walking skeletons,” he said of the surviving concentration camp prisoners. Mr. Hart gave his rations to them. “It was horrible,” he said.

When the war ended, Mr. Hart and his comrades celebrated. “We even celebrated with the Germans,” he said. “They were just as happy, I think, as we were.”

 


 

After the armistice, he recalled, German and American soldiers who, a few days before, had been shooting at each other traded guns and took turns shooting cans they set up in a dump. “I guess they didn’t want to war anymore than we did,” he said.

On Aug. 6, 1945, his troop ship landed in New York; that was the day the first atomic bomb was dropped, on Hiroshima. “We figured that saved our lives,” Mr. Hart said because the 20th Armored Division had been scheduled to be among the first wave to invade Japan.

When he returned home to Berne, Mr. Hart missed his comrades in arms who had been like brothers to him, he said. “My father was an only child, my mother was an only child, and I’m an only child,” he said. “So I think one of the biggest things coming home was missing the camaraderie.” He stayed in touch with his Army buddies for the rest of their lives.

Mr. Hart took up the business that had been his grandfather’s, then his father’s, and eventually became his — Frank Hart & Son Agway, now called The Olde Berne Mill, retiring in 2000.

He married Ruth Bridger Hart and together they raised their daughters in the Hilltowns. “You know, I always loved it there,” Mr. Hart said of Berne.

Mr. Hart was a lifelong member of the First Reformed Church of Berne, serving several terms as a deacon and elder. He was a member and past chief of the Berne Volunteer Fire Company and a commissioner of the Berne Fire District. He was also a life member of the American Legion Post 977 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4787.

“Milton and Ruth enjoyed boating, camping, and traveling,” his family wrote in a tribute. “They also enjoyed visiting state capitals and visited many on annual trips to his Army reunions throughout the United States. After retiring, he enjoyed time in his workshop, working on home projects.

“His greatest enjoyment was spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”

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Milton J. Hart Jr. is survived by his daughters, Susan DiMuria and her husband, Dennis, and Constance Schmitt and her husband, Donald, and by his his grandchildren, Christopher (Deanna), Adam (Trista), Emily DiMuria, Laura (Evan) Davies and Michael Schmitt.

He was the cherished great-grandfather of Nicolas, AJ, Amalia, Frank, Ashlee (Patrick), Parker, Taya, and Hunter, and the beloved great-great-grandfather of Hudson.

He is also survived by his sister-in-law Beverly (Arthur) Blessin, and many nieces and nephews and a host of many special friends.

There will be no public funeral service at this time. Family and Friends will be invited to a graveside committal service with military honors and a memorial service in the spring.

The family gives a special thank you to Rev. Bob Hoffman for his support.

Memorial contributions may be made to the First Reformed Church of Berne, 1664 Helderberg Trail, Berne, NY 12023 or the Berne Volunteer Fire Company, Post Office Box 187, Berne, NY 12023.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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