As an Army Air Corps radio operator in World War II, it's hard to imagine that anyone spent more hours airborne in the Pacific Theater than did Bryan's Al Hanson.
A member of the 55th troop carrier squadron that logged more than 1200 flights on 15 different type of aircraft, delivering needed supplies to troops stationed on practically every island of teh Pacific Campaign.
Today, his friends call him "Uncle Al." Back then, it was "Tex." By any name, you'll be inspired just to know, Sargeant Al Hanson.
"Well, we got to the recruiting office and here they come, these Navy, Marine Corps, Air Corps they come up to you, "Oh, you're a big guy, we need you. You'll get good advancement. We want you in the Marine Corps, you'll go right on up. Boy, you're a big guy, you've been playing football. Come on, sign up." And they separated us right there."
Al Hanson came right out of Robert E. Lee high school in Baytown, Texas, and joined up with his football teammates, to fight in World War II. Hanson was one of 4 brothers, born to deaf parents, who went into the service during the 2nd World War...and after basic training, became an airborne radio operator in the Pacific theater.
"I communicated with the ground, with a tower. Some of these towers in the Pacific, were just a jeep out there with a big antenna on it. But as soon as we got airborne, I got my little radio and my key and when we're airborne, I knew where we was going. So I'd call up, whether it be Okinawa, Northern Lauzon, all those islands, all the way from Australia to Japan. All those islands. We made all of them."
Al Hanson logged more hours during the war than most pilots can imagine.
He was on board airplanes that delivered supplies of every kind to American soldiers.
"Everything but gasoline. They never would let us deliver gasoline. But you name it, 50 caliber, bombs, nurses, Japanese prisoners." "… the next day we'd never know what we were going to haul. It might be people on the ground, might be paratroopers, or soldiers or it might be a jeep or whatever."
The Air Force used a color code system to specify what supplies were being parachuted to the waiting troops.
"White was first aid, red was ammunition and blue was food, I think. They were different colors. And they'd throw them out and we made several passes throwing all those parachutes out,"
Hanson's flights even dropped propaganda out over the Japanese islands. This poster depicts the impending invasion of Japan by Allied forces.
Even being a radio operator, Hanson had his share of close calls.
"One time we was over the Pacific Ocean, the right engine started coughing up and the pilot said, "get ready to bail out." Well the crew, we got our parachutes on, opened that door. Whenever that door comes open, boy that plane goes like this…we looked out at that water…You throw these rafts off, they hit the water and inflate. I looked at him and he looked at me and I said "Ain't no way they'd ever find us. We throw the raft out and then we jump out we might be 5 miles from that raft….I'm going down with the plane." And he said, 'me too.' And finally that right engine come back alive."
Once the war was over, he eventually settled down in Bryan, Texas…but to Al Hanson, who is now in his mid 80's, the ones that deserve the most recognition were not the soldiers on the front lines…
"Well a lot of times I think about the people that didn't go overseas. Like these drill instructors we had at Wichita Falls."
"Well these guys, man they worked hard. They wanted to go overseas too. They didn't just want to sit there and teach us how to drill, march, 30-mile hikes and gas chamber and all that. They wanted to go overseas. That's the guys who are really the heroes. Training us to go over there. But I'm proud those people didn't go overseas, because we all couldn't go."
For Voices of Veterans, I'm Tom Turbiville.