The 36th Division Archive
Lieutenant Harvey A. Hanna
Platoon Leader, Executive Officer, Company Commander
B & F Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Harvey Adamson Hanna was born in March 1917 to a farming family in Arkansas City, Kansas. His parents, both Ohio natives, moved to Kansas to begin new lives, eventually settling down and starting their own farm outside the city of Bolton. In the late 1920s, Hanna’s father took a new career with the United States Post Office which led to their relocation to Wichita. While there Hanna excelled in his schooling, graduating from high school early and beginning studies at Friends University in 1934 at the age of 17. He studied there for a few years but in the late 1930s decided to pursue a new career in the oil industry. Moving to California on his own, Hanna started a job as a laborer and logistics clerk with the Belridge Oil Company in Kern County. It was difficult and nasty work, but the pay provided ample income for Hanna as he found himself making friends and slowly becoming part of his transplanted community. Unfortunately, this progress came to an end in October 1940 when he received notice that he had been selected in one of the first preemptive US Army drafts. After a farewell party with friends, Hanna shipped out to basic training in January 1941.
Upon his completion of basic Hanna was assigned to the infantry and sent to join the 53rd Infantry Regiment, a unit attached to the 7th Infantry Division and based in California. It was here that he served as the United States descended into yet another great war. With war declared by Germany and Japan, the 53rd was fully mobilized and prepped for combat with drills, updated equipment, and amphibious training. They followed the 7th ID to Hawaii when it was transferred for Pacific service but were officially detached when another regiment took their place in the unit. Hanna and the 53rd stayed close by, however, in the summer of 1943 as they traveled with it to the island of Adak in the Aleutian Islands. Threatened by the invasion of other islands by Japanese forces, the 53rd was put on reserve in case of further action. In August the island of Kiska was overrun and a large American task force was sent to recapture it from Japanese control. Although again put out from potential combat, Hanna and the 53rd were moved to Amichtka where reserve units for the invading forces were stationed (including a regiment of the famed FSSF). Thankfully the Japanese had abandoned the island in the nights before American troops hit and before long Hanna was rotated back home to California and invited to attend Officer’s Candidate School, which he graduated in October 1943, leaving the enlisted ranks to become a 2nd Lieutenant.
By 1944 the war had heated up with Allied forces making their way up the Italian peninsula. Hanna, a fresh officer with some in-theater experience, was shipped overseas in the spring to join an increasingly large concentration of American troops gathering in England. Although unsure of what exactly was coming, it was clear that some sort of action on the European continent was on the horizon. On 3 June 1944 Hanna received his final assignment to report to F Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, whom he would join as a company officer of the “Big Red One.” Hanna was two days late, however, as the regiment had boarded troopships in southern England to begin making their way towards the French coast and begin the liberation of Europe. Nevertheless, Hanna was put onto a second ship full of replacements and made to wait anxiously onboard as 6 June brought news of American troops storming Normandy’s beaches under heavy fire, suffering extreme casualties. During the fighting on Omaha Hanna’s assigned unit, F Company, lost a whopping 6 officers, including most of its platoon leaders, and 50% of its enlisted men. When Hanna landed in the week following the invasion, he was a welcome sight and quickly thrust into action leading a platoon in the desperate breakout from the beachhead. The fighting amongst the fields and hedgerows of Normandy was brutal and continued nonstop for Hanna as the 1st ID led the charge into France. Casualties mounted day by day and on 19 June he was transferred out of F Company and moved to replace yet another lost officer in B Company, whom he would stay with for the next month and a half. On 2 July he and the 16th IR were placed into division reserve after three straight weeks of frontline combat, finally giving them a chance to rest and let some of the other GIs take on the brunt of the fighting. On 27 July the regiment returned to action to push against Marigny in conjunction with other American divisions making the final push towards St. Lo. During the fighting here Hanna was once again switched back into F Company from whom he would be removed once again on 21 August, this time as part of a promotion to the S-3 operations section of the 1st Battalion headquarters company. Now pushing off from La Ferte-Mace, the 16th began the final drive to Paris with Hanna helping guide the strategic operations of its men.
The 1st Infantry Division was consistently at the front of the American lines. An experienced unit and feared by its German counterparts, the 1st led the Allied armies through the rest of France and by September was reaching the border of Belgium and, soon, the goal of Aachen, the first stop in Germany itself. The fast-paced advance only continued for a few more weeks, however, before the Germans made their stand at an infamous patch of woods known as the Hurtgen Forest. As German forces attempted to use the harsh terrain and foul weather to stall the American advance, the 1st ID faced off against a series of newly redeployed veteran German forces to begin a slogging campaign of attrition. The casualties sustained led to a lack of field leaders and Hanna was once again returned to his position in B Company on 21 November where he was back on the frontlines suffering from constant cold and artillery barrages. It was during one of the thousands of bombardments faced by his division that Hanna himself became a casualty. On 6 December the 16th IR went to replace a regiment of the 9th Infantry Division and while sitting in foxholes and entrenched positions outside the town of Hamich, near Aachen, a German artillery barrage erupted in the early morning hours. While Hanna was hit by fragmentation in his thigh, the wound was only light and he opted to receive treatment in the field in order to stay with his men amidst the terrible fighting.
A week after his wound the 16th IR was rotated back into rest with the rest of the 1st Division on 12 December. Four days into their rest, sadly, they were interrupted as hundreds of thousands of German troops launched a major offensive into the American lines to try and break the entire Allied line, beginning what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The 1st, with its already noteworthy reputation, was sent into action and trucked to the northern sector of the line near Waywertz where they began a month of intense combat operations against some of Hitler’s most elite troops. During this fighting, Hanna was finally given a promotion to 1st Lieutenant, on 4 January 1945, but would perform actions that earned him more than a silver bar.
On 13 January Hanna was once again serving as a platoon leader in B Company of the 16th IR, this time dug in amongst the heavy forests outside of Waywerz, Belgium facing off against the fallschirmjäger of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division, another veteran division of the Normandy campaign. With heavy snow all around, Hanna and his fellow GIs spent their days in winter smocks either looking out into the vast white for enemy movement or performing probing patrols to find and attack enemy positions when able. Hanna was among the many selected to lead one of these patrols, one most notably occurring in the early hours of 13 January. Here he launched a group of men at 0100 in an attempt to find the German lines they knew to be somewhere close to Faymonville. Rough thirty minutes into the patrol the group came into contact with several German paratrooper machine gun emplacements and quickly found themselves in an intense firefight. The German guns had been set up in a crossfire which Hanna and his men had walked straight into, leaving them with several casualties within the first few minutes of fighting. Thankfully the cover of darkness and the leadership of Hanna allowed the group to retrieve their wounded and make their way back safely to allied lines where they updated the battalion’s maps with the deadly trap.
For the next several days the 16th IR continued these types of operations against the German line and the Germans against theirs. On 15 January, however, all was planned to change. With most of the Bulge solidified and reinforced, the American armies decided that an army-wide push was needed to finally drive back the Germans and resecure their pre-Bulge positions. For Hanna’s battalion, the target became Faymonville, which was suspected to house even further detachments of fallschirmjäger. At 0615 B Company launched off along with the rest of the battalion and began making their way towards the heavily fortified German trenches. While there was some initial resistance, Hanna’s company was able to successfully push through their sector of the line and by 0720 had overcome almost all obstacles and patrols they had encountered. Around 0800 the Germans had reorganized and repositioned their guns and before long the quick advance of the company was transformed into an intense firefight as machine guns, mortars, and other small arms riddled the air with lead. German machine guns proved particularly dangerous to B Company and pinned down many of its soldiers behind logs and bounds of snow. Lieutenant Hanna, noticing the plight of the company and his platoon, decided to act. Gathering up a group of soldiers, Hanna organized a small combat team and set out on a path to flank one of the main German emplacements holding up their advance. Running and jumping through the snow and under direct fire from multiple enemy machine guns, Hanna proceeded “with utter disregard for personal safety” to guide his men along a path that circled around to the flank of the Germans. Upon finally reaching a suitably advantageous position Hanna ordered his men to jump from cover as he began directing their fire towards the now outmaneuvered and surprised fallschirmjäger. The emplacement, bristling with several machine guns and numerous German soldiers, was devastated by the flanking assault and obliterated within a matter of minutes. With the heavy emplacement now neutralized, B Company was able to continue their assault with a group of M4 Shermans who had come up to do what Hanna had just done. Within the next few hours, after much harsh house-to-house fighting and heavy assaults against the paratroopers, the town of Faymonville was secured by Hanna’s company, a victory made possible by his gallant actions which opened the way. For his actions in the attack at Faymonville Lieutenant Hanna was later awarded the Silver Star Medal, the United States’ third-highest decoration for valor in combat.
From the 16th Infantry Regiment Association
In the following seven weeks saw the 16th IR continue the drive deep into the German heartland, breaking apart the enemy’s defensive line and resulting in the capture of Bonn in early March. Once taken, the next main objective came in April as they worked to clear the Harz Mountains. It was in the rugged, wooded valleys of the Harz that the Americans feared German SS and Volksturm were setting up a series of fortified strongpoints to hold a last line of defense against incoming Allied forces, potentially causing a large number of casualties in a last-ditch effort. One of the main objectives of the 16th Infantry in this campaign was the town of Rubeland which was assigned to B and C companies to secure. As the many months of hard combat had left these companies with fewer and less seasoned veterans, Hanna was now serving as B Company’s executive officer, assisting the company commander in leading the men. Setting out on their advance on the morning of 18 April, B Company took a route through the heavy forests along the Bode river while C Company traveled up the main road towards the city. At around 0815 B Company, stumbling their way through the tight and tangled trees, came across a clearing amidst the thick woods. As the company began bordering the treeline they realized that there was no path around except to cross the exposed terrain. Within only a few seconds of leaving their cover in the trees, the company was raked by heavy machine gun, rifle, and Panzerfaust fire which seemed to appear out of nowhere. In the midst of the chaos the company commander, Lieutenant Lawrence Stricklin, stepped out and called for the surrender of the German forces. Tragically, their response came in the form of a single rifle round striking Stricklin in the chest, mortally wounding him. Hanna rushed forward to assess the situation but arrived to Stricklin’s lifeless body and an entire company pinned down by an unseen foe. Now only two officers remained in the entire company: Hanna and a replacement who had only seen four days of combat thus far. Noticing the fear and anxiousness of his men, who had dearly loved their commander, Hanna became the next best man to lead the company and decided that the best route of action was to retreat back into the woods and regroup with C Company on the main road. After a demoralized trek backward the two companies did eventually meet, reforming and continuing the fight towards Rubeland by breaking several German roadblocks manned by civilian conscripts and uniformed soldiers. Despite the number of attempted defenses, none proved truly difficult for the trained men of the 16th Infantry and by the end of the day they had taken a whopping 500 prisoners, knocked out a truck convoy, and eliminated a series of 20mm gun emplacements on a half-track and across the city itself. The town surrendered without much of a fuss once entered and with that action began the downhill slope to the end of the war.
From the 16th Infantry Regiment Association
Although the full German surrender came on 8 May 1945, some scattered fighting occurred and on 14 May Lieutenant Hanna himself, now the company commander of B Company fired the final shots attributed to the 16th Infantry’s 1st Battalion. In the next four months, Hanna spent his time with the 1st ID creating the framework for U.S. occupation, seizing German weapons depots, processing prisoners, organizing cleanup, and establishing order in the collapsed Third Reich. In October 1945 the grizzled lieutenant was allowed to return home where he quickly married his wife, Beatrice, and moved back to California where they could start their lives in earnest upon his discharge that December. By the time he left the service in 1945 Hanna had risen from a lowly private to a Company Commander who had seen service in all three theaters of war, had been wounded in action, and was awarded the Bronze Star and two Silver Stars for valor (a second for a currently unknown action).
His return to The Golden State was now filtered through the lens of a man who had seen some of the worst combat of the European theater and thus his old job at the oil refinery was no longer that suitable. Instead, Hanna decided to utilize his benefits from the GI Bill and attended the University of California Los Angeles to receive his master’s degree in industrial management. He graduated in 1949 and was now a supervisor on the same projects he once labored in, even rising to become a deal-broker for a large chunk of his career. Outside of work he was most known in his church, where he volunteered much of his time serving. It was amongst this life in the bustling sprawl of Los Angeles that Hanna spent the rest of his days, peacefully passing amongst his family in 2002.
Special thanks to Robert Morsink for accessing the 16th Infantry Regiment Morning Reports, the 16th Infantry Regiment Historical Association for information about Rubeland, the 16th Infantry Regiment Association for the distribution of maps, and the archives maintained through the 1st Infantry Division Museum