NORTH YARMOUTH — Ed Hanson was just 15 in 1942, when he entered boot camp on a trajectory to World War II.
Seventy-five years later, the spry, no-nonsense nonagenarian will be flown to Washington, D.C., at the end of the month on an Honor Flight trip to see the memorials to those who served in the nation’s military.
Hanson has lived in North Yarmouth nearly 71 years, since he got married. He and his wife, Geraldine, have had five children.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” Geraldine said during an interview March 16. “Because he waits on me.”
Hanson, originally from Buffalo, New York, spent nearly six years in the U.S. Navy – after a bit of a rough, albeit well-intended, start.
“I went in in ’42,” he recalled with a twinkle in his eye. “I lied about my age.”
Hanson said he walked into a church, filled out a baptismal certificate to indicate that he was 17 – the legal age at the time to enter the armed services – and used that as identification to sign up for the U.S. Navy Armed Guard. He then learned he was joining a gun crew to guard a merchant ship.
“I didn’t know what the Armed Guard was; I just signed up,” he said. “I was lucky they didn’t pick my name for a tanker or anything like that; they were suicide.”
After he’d spent almost four weeks at gunnery school in Gulfport, Mississippi, “they caught up on me and took me home,” Hanson said.
“Sometimes I wonder down there in Gulfport if they were training for guns, or how to survive,” he recalled. “They’d take you out and they’d make you jump in a swimming pool with your clothes on. Then you had to climb this rope; I could see me trying to do it now.”
Two years later, in 1944, Hanson enlisted the honest way. He spent the next five years in the Navy, where he found his element.
“He wouldn’t have gotten out,” his wife said. “He liked the Navy.”
“We were going into the Mediterranean, and they were bombing Gibraltar, so we had a kind of slow paddle,” Hanson said. “Then we got to Naples, and they’d come over at night, bombing. But I don’t know; it never seemed to bother me, really. If it did, I don’t remember.”
On the transport vessel, “your biggest worry was the damn subs trying to get you,” he recalled. “You could hear the escorts out there, dropping their depth charges” to attack the submarines.
“In fact, one night we were out there … and this guy must have come right up through the convoy, and he dropped a depth charge that shook that ship,” Hanson said. “It scared the hell out of us; we thought we got hit.”
He also recalled the “buzz bombs” in England; as long as you could hear the buzz, you had time to find cover, Hanson said. Once the buzz stopped, it was too late.
“They shot a lot of them down, but a lot of them got through,” he remembered.
Hanson was later on a destroyer escort, sailing ahead of the rest of the fleet, on its way to the Pacific Ocean.
“Then he dropped that bomb, (and) saved our butts,” he said, referring to then-President Harry Truman’s authorization an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 6, 1945.
That bomb, followed by another three days later on Nagasaki, forced Japan to surrender, finally ending World War II and avoiding an Allied ground invasion.
“It’s over with, and we were lucky,” Hanson said of soldiers like himself and his brother, who were fortunate enough to make it back home. “We made it through it. A lot of them didn’t.”
Hanson, a member of the North Yarmouth Veterans Memorial Park Corp., remains a big fan of the Navy, and also put in a plug for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
“They’ve taken good care of me,” he said. “… A lot of guys squawk, because maybe they have to wait a few minutes. But there’s always somebody worse than you ahead of you.”
His final, post-war years in the Navy included a trip to Saudi Arabia. He returned to civilian life in 1949, a year before the U.S. entered the Korean War.
“The ship I was on, they sent that to Korea,” Hanson said, adding with a chuckle, “I got out just in time.”
In the years that followed, he worked aboard a freighter on the Great Lakes, and was a crane oiler in Buffalo. In Maine, he spent nearly four decades in the steel industry in Portland, then worked in maintenance at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station until retiring in 1992.
Asked whether his time in the war changed him, Hanson said, “I don’t think it did. It didn’t seem to bother me, really. I wasn’t that brave; maybe I was stupid.”
Hanson’s near future includes the trip to Washington, courtesy of Honor Flight Maine. The Portland-based nonprofit organization flies veterans to the nation’s capital to tour war memorials.
“I’m surprised; I’m honored, really,” he said of being selected.
His daughter, Cindy Brewington, signed him up last fall and had forgotten about it until hearing two weeks ago that her father would be going. Hanson humbly resisted at first, but once again listened to a woman in his family.
“I knew I’d have been in deep trouble if I turned it down,” he said, smiling.
Hanson will fly to Washington Friday, March 31, visit the sites Saturday, and return to Maine Sunday. A “welcome home” gathering is planned at the Portland Jetport at the time of Hanson’s 12:40 p.m. return on Sunday, April 2.
Honor Flight Maine is taking World War II veteran Ed Hanson of North Yarmouth to Washington, D.C., on March 31.
Ed Hanson tried to get into the U.S. Navy when he was 15. He was allowed to legally join at 17, as shown in this 1944 photo.