WWI veteran's daughter accepts Purple Heart 100 years after war's end
PARK RAPIDS, Minn. — One hundred years after the end of World War I, a Minnesota veteran finally received his Purple Heart.
On Saturday, 88-year-old Betty Landa of Menahga, Minn. — one of Albert M. Hanson's three living daughters — accepted the military honor on his behalf at the Park Rapids American Legion in northwest Minnesota.
Many of Hanson's descendants attended the ceremony: eight grandchildren and their spouses, six great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandkids.
The award was presented by Sen. Amy Klobuchar alongside Col. Chad Sackett, deputy training site manager at Camp Ripley.
While researching family genealogy, the first document Sharon Ylitalo of Menahga found was a military record for her grandfather. Under medals, it listed "Purple Heart."
"My family didn't know anything about it — none of the cousins — so we had to start sending away for information," Ylitalo recounted. "We kept hitting roadblocks so the Purple Heart Reunited Association told us to contact our representative."
Enter Kurt Johnson, constituent services advocate from Klobuchar's office.
"He also hit roadblocks, but his middle name should be 'Perseverance.' He kept coming up with new ideas," she said. "That office was amazing. Can't give enough credit."
One of the major obstacles: The necessary military records had burned in a fire at St. Louis, Mo. Thankfully, the Minnesota Historical Society housed documents about Hanson's military service.
"It tells where he served and how long he served," Ylitalo said, pointing to one copy. Other forms included honorable discharge papers, U.S. transport lists, final military payment and other vital information.
Ylitalo's cousin, Darlene and Jim Villard, also assisted in the research effort.
Klobuchar praised the family for digging for the truth. "This wouldn't have happened without family members who want to keep this memory alive, and I think more important, this memory passed on to young people and others," she said. "It's because of your work and your determination and your commitment to telling Albert's story that today we honor his service with the recognition that he so courageously earned."
Albert's story has been duplicated so many times, Klobuchar said. "Minnesota has had this tradition — really going way back to the Civil War — of having many courageous soldiers give the ultimate sacrifice."
World War I service
Hanson was born July 3, 1886 in Rochester, Minn. He enlisted on May 25, 1918 in Moorhead. He was first sent to Camp Lewis, Wash. for basic training, followed by Camp Kearney, Calif. On Aug. 8, 1918, he sailed from Brooklyn, N.Y., on the ship Teiresias to Liverpool, England. The Army private was listed with Company B of the 159th U.S. Infantry.
Hanson arrived in France on Aug. 30, 1918, where he was transferred to Company H, 111th Infantry, 28th Division. He was stationed there for 11 months.
According to the Minnesota Historical Society's records, Hanson served on the front lines at the battles of Argonne near Thiaucourt, Saint Mihiel and Metz.
"He and his division took part in high-risk missions, often requiring them to take cover to fox holes to escape oncoming enemy fire. They routinely had to use gas masks to protect themselves from mustard gas," Klobuchar recounted.
On Nov. 10, 1918 — the last full day of war before Germany signed the armistice agreement — Hanson's division took part in "one of the largest battles in an attempt to take Metz, a vital transportation route," Klobuchar said, "The call to put on their masks came too late that day, and Albert and many of his soldiers were hit with a deadly gas attack."
Hanson was taken to a field hospital near Metz, where he stayed for three days and survived.
"Albert showed up on the front lines later that week, ready to defend the peace that he and his brothers had courageously fought for," Klobuchar said.
Hanson was honorably discharged on May 15, 1919.
He returned to Minnesota, where he worked as a farm laborer. He married the farmer's daughter, Inga Nelson, and started their own family.
"Albert, like most soldiers, didn't serve for the accolades or attention, but he deserved to be presented with the medal he earned," said Klobuchar.
Hanson died Oct. 12, 1961, at the VA Hospital in Fargo.
The Purple Heart is currently the oldest military decoration in the world, said Greg Remus of the Park Rapids American Legion. "It was initially created as a badge of military merit by one of the world's most famed and beloved heros: General George Washington."
The Purple Heart is awarded to those in the U.S. Armed Forces wounded or killed in action by an enemy's weapon of war.
"It is truly a combat decoration," Remus said, adding that it differs from other awards because the individual is entitled to the Purple Heart after meeting certain criteria.
Sackett thanked the Hanson family and Sen. Klobuchar for their diligence.
"It's been a 100 years. It's a tragedy Private Hanson did not receive this medal during his lifetime, but the fact that you stuck with it, it's perfect timing to make this right," he said, noting that last week was Purple Heart Day.
About 4 million people were mobilized for World War I, with 2 million serving overseas.
"Just over a quarter million were injured in the line of duty, with Albert Hanson being one of those," he said.
"World War I changed how we did business," Sackett added, in that it moved the U.S. out of its isolationism.
Soldiers "faced horrific consequences — the living conditions, the trench warfare, the artillery, the gas," he said, thanking the family for Hanson's service and sacrifice.