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Harry F. Hansen, highly decorated veteran

World War II (1939-1945)U.S. ArmyMemorial Day

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.

"Captain Hansen fearlessly advanced on foot to locate the enemy tank, although subjected all the way to increasingly heavy enemy, small arms and mortar fire," reads the Silver Star citation.

"Climbing to the turret of the tank destroyer, he rode in this exposed and vulnerable position directing the driver over the route he later selected," read the citation. "As a result of his excellent reconnaissance, he was able to direct the tank destroyer into position from which it destroyed the enemy tank before any enemy fire was possible."

Mr. Hansen was wounded when a bullet entered his shoulder. He was sent to a military hospital in England, and after his release in February 1945, he was put in charge of a prisoner-of-war camp near Paris.

He was discharged with the rank of captain. His other decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, Croix de Guerre and two Purple Hearts.

After the war ended, Mr. Hansen returned to Baltimore, where he sold insurance and worked for the A.L. Robertson Home Improvement Co.

In 1952, he purchased the Baltimore Shade & Awning Co., whose name he changed to the Baltimore Canvas Co.

The West Baltimore company, which manufactures commercial awnings, has been owned and operated by his son since Mr. Hansen's retirement in 1982.

In 2002, Mr. Hansen received an email from an Englishman, Peter Revell, who was a student of World War II and had recently purchased a home in Troisgots.

He had noticed a plaque in the small village church that bore Mr. Hansen's name and recalled the successful liberation of the town by Mr. Hansen and his men.

Mr. Hansen and his family were invited to the town, which they visited in 2002 when the town commemorated the actions of the American soldiers 58 years earlier.

"More than 500 townspeople came to thank the Americans. One man played 'The Star-Spangled Banner' on a clarinet. It was very moving," his son said. "Another man gave him a bottle of calvados which he had hidden in straw to keep it from the Germans during the war."

"One man literally kissed his feet, while another woman told him that when her son lies in bed at night, he always asks her to tell him the story about Harry," wrote Ms. Hansen. "He was very modest and said he was just doing his duty as a soldier."

Mr. Hansen's wife died in 1997.

Plans for funeral services in Arlington National Cemetery are incomplete.

Mr. Hansen is survived by his son and granddaughter.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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