Harry Hansen (Baltimore Sun / May 15, 2007)

Harry F. Hansen Sr., a highly decorated World War II veteran who landed in the initial wave of troops on Omaha Beach on D-Day and later became a Baltimore businessman, died on Memorial Day from complications of a stroke at Howard County General Hospital.

The longtime Ellicott City resident was 96.

The son of a butcher and a homemaker, Harry Frederick Hansen was born in Baltimore and raised on Ashton Street in Southwest Baltimore.

After graduating from City College in 1935, he worked as a butcher with his father and as a jewelry salesman, before his marriage in 1939 to Edith Mae Stephens.

Mr. Hansen enlisted in the Army in 1942 and was trained as a tank commander. After graduating from officer candidate school, he joined the 743rd Tank Battalion of the fabled 29th Infantry Division in Europe in 1943.

He was in the initial wave of troops and tanks that swept onto Omaha Beach early in the morning of June 6, 1944.

"My father was literally one of the first to land on Omaha Beach during D-Day," said his son, Harry F. "Rick" Hansen of Catonsville.

After landing on the beach, his tank was disabled when it hit a land mine.

"A metal hatch had hit him in the head but he managed to climb out onto the beach and passed out," wrote his granddaughter, Nicole Hansen of Ellicott City, who interviewed Mr. Hansen in 2007.

"When he woke up, he was still lying on the beach and his infantry division had left him. He walked until he found another American tank," wrote Ms. Hansen. "In that tank, he met a man, Capt. Elder, who was soon to become the best friend he had in the war."

After the death of his platoon leader, Mr. Hansen was given a battlefield promotion to leader of his platoon. He and his men were in charge of clearing the beach of obstacles and debris.

"Displaying bravery and presence of mind in the midst of the heavy enemy fire that was directed on the area, Captain Hansen completed his assigned mission thoroughly and with dispatch," said his Bronze Star citation.

He was then given command of a company of tanks. In July 1944, Mr. Hansen and his men came upon the village of Troisgots, France, which was under the control of the German army. "The town was on a hill occupied by several German tanks and their position stalled the Allied advance," said his son.

"Frustrated, my father leapt from his tank, persuaded an infantryman to follow with his bazooka," said his son. "The two men advanced on foot beyond the Allied front. They destroyed two German tanks, directed artillery fire toward a third, while the fourth tank fled."

A month later during a counterattack at Mortain, France, his friend Captain Elder was killed.

"It took my grandfather years to get over Capt. Elder's death," his granddaughter wrote in her interview.

After the officer's death, Mr. Hansen was promoted to company commander.

It was during the siege of Aachen, Germany, in October 1944, that Mr. Hansen was seriously wounded.

He and another soldier had gone forward to investigate after two of his tanks had been destroyed by enemy fire and then commandeered a U.S. M-10 tank destroyer to destroy the enemy tank.

Mr. Hansen's actions that day earned him a Silver Star for gallantry.