LISTEN to George Hansen on Hometown Heroes
91-year-old George Hansen of Clovis, CA appears on episode #373 of Hometown Heroes, debuting June 27, 2015. A native of Minnesota who spent some of his childhood in Canada before his family moved to Bend, OR, Hansen served with the 11th Armored Division in Europe during World War II.
He played the french horn in the orchestra at Bend High School, home of the Lava Bears, the same school that produced Robert D. Maxwell, who at this time of publication is America’s oldest living recipient of the Medal of Honor. After graduating in 1941, George headed to Westmont College, then in Los Angeles. You’ll hear what he remembers about December 7, 1941, and how news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor affected life in southern California in the near aftermath. George had dreamed of becoming since his boyhood in Canada, when he watched planes land on a nearby lake. He tried to join the Army Air Corps, and later the Navy. Listen to Hometown Heroes to find out why those plans didn’t work out, and how he ended up in the Army.
“It was a disappointment,” George remembers. “But I’ve discovered that God has something better, and it’s not always what we want, it’s what he shows you that you should be doing.” Hansen entered the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP), studying engineering at Santa Clara University for six months until ASTP was disbanded because of the need for ground troops. He had never fired a machine gun before, but now he was assigned to a machine gun squad, training in Lompoc, CA in preparation of heading overseas with the 11th Armored Division. “All the young guys wanted to be in some kind of service,” Hansen remembers. “Everybody was for you, and our country wasn’t divided. We were all together wanting to win these two wars.” He sailed for England in September, 1944, and by December, the 11th Armored Division was heading for combat in France. That’s when things started to feel real for George. “During my high school years, sometimes they would ask young people like me if we were willing to be a pastor or a missionary,” Hansen explains, adding that he never responded yes because of his drive to become a pilot. With casualties rising in France, he knew he would be in harm’s way, and the 20-year-old changed his tune in a heartfelt prayer. “God, if you get me out alive, I’ll do anything with the rest of my life that you want me to do,” he remembers praying. “I’d even be a preacher. I’d even be a missionary.” Hansen views the close calls he survived over the months that followed as life-saving answers to that prayer.
The 11th Armored Division was supposed to attack remaining pockets of German resistance along the coast of Brittany, but when German forces surrounded 101st Airborne troops in Bastogne, Belgium, the 11th Armored was rerouted to help break through the German lines. On its way to fight in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge, the half track in which George was riding was targeted by enemy artillery. Hansen was with eight others, sleeping in the back of the vehicle, when it took a direct hit. Waking up to the chaos of a shell exploding in the middle of nine men, George feared he had lost his left leg. “I thought it was blown off,” you’ll hear him recall. “I started feeling to see where it ended, and I got to my foot and I was very happy to see that I still had a foot and a leg.” The explosion had ripped off his overcoat, costing him a camera, a wristwatch, and a hand grenade, and his leg was completely numb, but he was alive.
Two of the men riding with him were killed instantly, including the soldier right next to him, and several more were severely wounded. The vehicle behind his was a medic’s jeep, and George was quickly evacuated to a field hospital. The 11th Armored Division had three more weeks of the Battle of the Bulge, eventually teaming with the 1st Army units to officially close the “bulge” on January 16, 1945. While his fellow soldiers battled extreme weather conditions and a fierce enemy, with extreme casualties, George was recuperating in a cozy hospital, complete with a warm bed and hot meals. When he returned to his unit, now made up almost exclusively of replacements, Hansen was named squad leader. Listen to Hometown Heroes to hear George recall the other incidents in which he sees divine protection, including the logic-defying tale of a narrow path he traversed, oblivious to the fact that land mines buried in the path would later injure three of his fellow soldiers. He would come home from the war as a 21-year-old Purple Heart recipient, carrying several confiscated swords and pistols, as well as a strong desire to follow through on the bargain he had made before entering combat. “When the war ended, my mind was decided,” George says, recalling the heartbroken and devastated civilians he encountered in Europe. “I wanted to be a missionary somewhere, and help people like these poor people that I saw over there.”
You’ll hear how he met a young blonde named Joyce when he returned to Westmont College, and the unique way in which he proposed to her. George and Joyce would go on to have four children, 13 grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren, with number ten on the way at the time of this airing. He lost Joyce two years ago, but George is still living on mission. At age 91 he still rides his bike, drives, and plays the french horn in the orchestra at Riverpark Bible Church in Fresno, CA, where he serves as visitation pastor. “I think I’m where God wants me to be,” you’ll hear him say, while citing one of his favorite passages of scripture, Proverbs 3:5-6. “God has blessed me with so many wonderful friends.”
Many of those friends were at Fresno Yosemite International Airport to welcome him home from his June, 2015 journey with Central Valley Honor Flight. You’ll hear what he appreciated about his experience at the National World War II memorial, as well as other monuments, and what his hopes for the future are as well. George traveled back to Brazil during the 2014 World Cup, handing out gospel tracts and engaging people flocking to one of the world’s biggest sporting events. With the Olympic Games heading to Rio de Janeiro in 2016, he isn’t ruling out another journey to South America to follow the calling he feels so strongly. That pledge a nervous 20-year-old made in December 1944 has helped chart a remarkable course for his life. If you encounter this energetic 91-year-old, please thank him for serving our country.