When Bob Hanson walked into my office in early November to be interviewed for our Veterans Day issue, I just had a feeling he was a man with an incredible story to tell.
The nearly 88-year-old WWII Navy veteran, wearing his “WWII veteran” hat, promptly shook my hand, and we sat down to start talking about his military service.
He was proud of the fact he could still fit into the Navy uniform he wore when he was a 17-year-old 2nd Class Signalman aboard a sub chaser.
He brought with him a photo album of his Navy years, which included a photo of himself and members of the USS Xanthus celebrating the day the Japanese surrendered, signaling the end to WWII.
Bob can be seen in the upper-right corner of the slightly grainy, black-and-white photograph, raising his cap above his head.
When Bob agreed to talk to me, he prefaced the interview with the comment that “he didn’t talk much” about some memories he had of his military days.
I’m glad he decided to speak with me.
Hanson died Feb. 6 after a long battle with cancer.
He was well known and well liked in the North Branch and Harris areas.
When his wife Alice died in 2002, Hanson moved from North Branch to White Bear Lake, but he stayed active in the community.
He was a member of North Branch VFW Post 6424 and Harris American Legion Post 139.
People who knew Bob were likely aware of his military service, but maybe they didn’t know about the times he barely escaped harrowing situations unscathed.
During Bob’s first tour of duty aboard the aforementioned sub chaser, which was tasked with patrolling the waters off of Kauai, the fourth largest of the Hawaiian Islands, Bob and his crew almost ended up at the bottom of the ocean after setting off some depth charges to ward off what they thought might have been an enemy submarine.
The boat was a former fishing vessel, and not fast enough to get completely out of the blast zone before the depth charges exploded.
Bob recalled the vessel “limped back into port.”
Aboard his next ship, the USS Lexington, Bob survived a Kamikaze attack that did considerable damage to the ship and killed a number of the crew.
At the time of the attack, he was assigned to a damage control party, away from the superstructure where the Japanese plane hit the ship.
I remember asking him if he knew any of the men who were killed.
He paused for a moment, seeming to look past me as he did, even though we were making eye contact, and said, “I knew some of the signalmen who were killed. It was a lot of sorrow and I guess disbelief that they got killed.”
Our conversation wasn’t all military memories and sadness, though. He told me about how he met his wife in “a butcher’s shop, for God’s sake” after he returned home, and how the two had six, beautiful children together.
He also recollected all the good years he had worked for the NP-BN Railroad.
That interview was the only time I ever talked to Bob, but he made an impact on me.
My perception of him is that he was a kind, gentle man who was no more than a kid when he helped defend our country.
I thank him for that service, as we all should.
Rest in peace, Bob.