In the mammoth California banking market, San Francisco-based Union Bank seems a weakling despite its considerable size. Its $16 billion of assets are dwarfed by those of its powerful rivals, BankAmerica Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co.

But any competitor that tries to kick sand in Union's face will have to answer to Richard C. Hartnack, a 47-year-old ex-Marine who dropped bombs from the back seat of an F-4 jet during the Vietnam War.

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