Robert Hanson (United States Army Air Forces)

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Robert John Hanson (May 25, 1920 – October 1, 2005) served on board the B-17 bomber aircraft the Memphis Belle during the Second World War.[1]

Robert John Hanson
BornMay 25, 1920
Walla Walla, Washington
DiedOctober 1, 2005
Albuquerque, New Mexico
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUS Army; US Army Airforce
RankTechnician Sergeant
Battles/warsSecond World War
AwardsUS Distinguished Flying Cross; Air Medal (Three Oak Leaf Clusters)
Other workCompany District Manager

Early life[edit]

Robert Hanson was born in Walla Walla, Washington[2] state on May 25, 1920.[1]

He and his two brothers were placed in an orphanage following the death of his mother when he was young, his father was a road builder and regularly absent. An uncle took them out of the orphanage and raised them at Garfield, Washington. While there, Robert was a star at athletics at high school.[1]

His sporting prowess saw him win a baseball scholarship to university.[1] However, Robert opted to go straight into work and became a construction worker in Spokane.[3] From there Robert enlisted in the US Army in the summer of 1941.[1] However, he determined not to become an infantryman after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and volunteered for radio training which saw his transfer to the US Army Air Forces.[1]

When training at Walla Walla, he was assigned to the Memphis Belle.[3]

Memphis Belle[edit]

The "Memphis Belle" crew shown at an air base in England after completing 25 missions over enemy territory on June 7, 1943. Left to right: Tech. Sgt. Harold P. Loch, top turret gunner; Staff Sgt. Cecil H. Scott, ball turret gunner; Tech. Sgt. Robert J, Hanson, radio operator; Capt. James A. Verinis, co-pilot; Capt. Robert K. Morgan, pilot; Capt. Charles B. Leighton, navigator; Staff Sgt. John P. Quinlan, tail gunner; Staff Sgt. Casimer A. Nastal, waist gunner; Capt. Vincent B. Evans, bombardier and Staff Sgt. Clarence E. Wichell, waist gunner.

The crew flew the Memphis Belle to their wartime base in the United Kingdom in September 1942. From there they flew against targets in France and Nazi Germany between November 7, 1942, and May 17, 1943; the air raids amounted to 148 hours of flying and over 60 tonnes of bombs dropped.[3]

The first raid on November 7 was against the dockyard at Brest in France; the crew's other missions came approximately every 10 days attacking the ports of France, Belgium and Nazi Germany.[1]

Hanson carried a lucky rabbit's foot on their missions.[1]

The crew had some close shaves: on one occasion the tail of the aircraft was shot away; this happened on January 23, 1943, while attacking the submarine pens at Lorient in France.[1] As Hanson related -[3]

When we got the tail shot off, Capt. Morgan put the ship into a terrific dive and we dropped two- or three-thousand feet, it pretty nearly threw me out of the airplane, "I hit the roof. I thought we were going down and wondered if I should bail out. Then he pulled up again and I landed on my back. I had an ammunition box and a frequency meter on top of me. I didn't know what was going on.

— Robert Hanson, LA Times (3)

The Memphis Belle made it back to base with 68 rips in the fabric of the fuselage.[1]

On another occasion Hanson sneezed while writing in his logbook. At that moment a bullet passed through the space previously occupied by his head, striking his logbook, he kept the book for the rest of his life.[3]

The first aircraft to complete at tour of 25 missions was the Hot Stuff, a B-24 Liberator bomber. However, it crashed into a mountain en route to the United States in bad weather; the Memphis Belle was selected to return to the United States in its place upon completing their 25-mission tour.[4]

After finishing their tour the crew were introduced to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, they then returned to the United States to take part in a 32-city tour to raise morale and sell war bonds. They were accompanied on the tour by their Highland Terrier mascot called Stuka.[1]

Their arrival back in the United States took place at Long Beach on August 19, 1943, to the cheers of thousands Douglas Aircraft Company workers.[3]

Later life[edit]

For the remainder of his life, Hanson used his wartime Morse Code sign-off of "dit, dit, dit, dah, dit, dah" to end telephone calls.[3]

After his wartime service Hanson returned to Washington state, he worked for Nalley Fine Foods in Walla Walla as a salesman and subsequently a regional manager. He also worked for a Spokane candy company. Upon retirement he moved to Mesa, Arizona, and later Albuquerque in New Mexico.[3]

Personal life[edit]

In 1942 Hanson married Irene Payton, who survived him along with their son and daughter. However, he was predeceased by another daughter.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Hanson appears in the 1944 documentary 'The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress' directed by William Wyler.[5]

There was also a 1990 film 'Memphis Belle' directed by Michael Caton-Jones.[6]

During the 1989 production Hanson visited the cast during filming at RAF Binbrook in the United Kingdom. Hanson joked, "They're not quite as good-looking as we were ... but they are young and enthusiastic – exactly like we were".[3]

After the release of the film Hanson spoke to his grandson's high school class; when asked if what happened in the film was true, he replied "No, it didn't all happen to the Memphis Belle, but everything in the movie happened to some B-17".[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Robert Hanson". 2005-10-17. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  2. ^ "Robert Hanson". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Oliver, Myrna (2005-10-10). "Robert Hanson, 85; Last Living Crewman of the Memphis Belle". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  4. ^ "41-23728 | American Air Museum in Britain". Retrieved 2018-05-29.
  5. ^ Wyler, William (1944-04-13), The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress, Stanley Wray, Robert Morgan, James A. Verinis, retrieved 2018-05-29
  6. ^ Caton-Jones, Michael (1990-10-12), Memphis Belle, Matthew Modine, Eric Stoltz, Tate Donovan, retrieved 2018-05-29