Robert Hanna was born and raised in Joppa, Maryland on a plot of land that had been in his family since the Revolutionary War. He and his family attended Franklinville Presbyterian Church at the top of Vinegar Hill Road, just along the Gunpowder River. Robert graduated from Old Post Road High School in 1939 and was handed a diploma that was signed by Education Secretary C. Milton Wright himself. He then took a job working for Harford County as an equipment operator for the county roads department; he worked under his father who was a foreman.
Robert, “Bub” of Bob to his friends, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 to help the fight against the Nazis. In June of 1944, only days prior to his 22 birthday, Bob, along with hundreds of thousands of other brave men, found himself on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean steaming full-boar towards the beaches of Normandy France as part of a mission known as “Operation: Overlord.”
History has come to dub this mission the “D-Day Invasion.” Its goal was simple–overwhelm the Germans with sheer brute force. For many of the men who landed on the beach on the first day of the battle, Normandy would become their eternal resting place.
Fortunately for then Army Staff Sergeant Bob Hanna, he was not in that first group of men, but rather landed at the so nicknamed “Omaha” Beach a day or two after the first wave of the Allied attack. However, by June 12 he and his men were under heavy German fire and many of Sgt. Hanna’s men found themselves completely pinned down in an open field. SSgt Hanna was hit twice by German bullets–once in the shoulder and once in the hip.
Despite his wounds, SSgt Hanna fought his way through the fray to aid his men, only halting his efforts when pain and loss of blood robbed him of consciousness. For his wounds in action and his gallantry in battle, SSgt. Hanna was awarded a purple heart and the Silver Star.
His military career continued through United Nations rebuilding efforts in Europe and into the Korean War, where SSgt. Hanna re-enlisted as part of the Corps of Engineers. For his ability to lead and organize and maintain vital equipment, SSgt. Hanna was awarded a bronze star for distinguished service during battle. Also during the Korean War, SSgt. Hanna was again wounded in action and again received a Purple Heart – though, due to a loss of the records from that time and Bob’s own reluctance to discuss his military service, the details of his wounds are lost to history.
After the Korean War, Bob Hanna was stationed for a time in Germany. In 1955, he was promoted to the rank of Captain and returned to the States shortly thereafter. Captain Hanna retired from the service in 1962, purchased a small home across the street from his parents on Old Joppa Road in Joppa and took a job with the State Highway Administration.
In 1975, Bob Hanna got a new role, one that affected me a little more personally: “Pop-Pop.” It was in this capacity that he soon took on the hazardous and trying duty of reading “Green Eggs & Ham” more times than any human should have to endure. But it was my favorite book and like some of his more honorable duties, he performed it with enthusiasm and zeal.
Bob passed away in 1982; I was only 7, but my memories of him are clear and precious. Like so many of his fellows from WWII, my grandfather tried in later life to leave the horrors of war behind him. It has only been through old papers and files and the occasional family anecdote that I’ve been able to piece together a few of the details of his courage in the face of grave danger. I wish with all my heart that I’d have had the chance to spend more time with him and ask him specifically about those days.
It wasn’t until my adulthood that I have come to cherish him not only as a grandfather, but also as an American hero; like so many of the other brave souls who in times of war and peace have put on the uniform of these United States and offered their youth and their blood as sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.
So on this special Veterans Day, to all the men and women in uniform past and present I’d like to offer my endless respect and gratitude. Thank you for your service and sacrifice.
To the family and friends of those veterans, especially the family of those too few still living WWII vets: Ask questions. Get details. Listen to the stories. Preserve the history. Don’t let their trials be washed away by time.
And a special note to all the Pop-Pops, from all the little boys who loved hearing “Green-Eggs & Ham”- we are so proud and grateful. We love you.